Digital Health & Wellness

Digital Health and Wellness: Maintaining a Healthy Balance with Technology

As parents, we certainly can’t be with our children constantly to monitor the potentially inappropriate material they may encounter. But we can help them learn to make good choices. We can take advantage of teachable moments to compare media content and messages to our family values--perhaps when watching a TV commercial or show, viewing a website, movie, or discussing the lyrics to a song.

Digital Health and Wellness is an important parent-child discussion to revisit frequently with your child, from elementary school through high school. Experts warn that children are most vulnerable to online dangers while in their own home. While many potential dangers are filtered so students can’t access them at schools, parents sometimes forget that children may have direct access to inappropriate sites at home unless they take action.

In accordance with the District’s Electronic Technologies Acceptable Use Policy (#524), outside of school, parents bear responsibility for the same guidance of internet use as they exercise with information sources such as television, telephones, radio, movies and other possibly offensive media. Parents are responsible for monitoring their student’s use of the District’s educational technologies, including school-issued email accounts and the internet if the student is accessing the District’s electronic technologies from home or through other remote location(s).

Set Expectations

Regularly share your expectations with your child about accessing only appropriate sites and content, as well as being a good person when online (even when parents aren't watching). Outside of school, it is likely that your child has already been confronted with multiple opportunities to access content that parents wouldn’t approve, such as pornography, hate sites, celebrity gossip, reality tv personal blogs and more, all of which may influence your child's beliefs, values and behavior. Understand that your child's use of many technologies (such as laptops, video game systems, and cell phones) likely gives your child the ability to connect to unfiltered public wireless networks (such as in a library or coffee shop, by picking up a neighbor’s wireless signal, or connecting to the Internet through a cell service). Therefore, it is important to maintain regular, open dialog about internet use and access. Discuss your expectation for appropriate use and behavior. Consider completing and discussing a Common Sense Family Media Agreement for Grades K-5, Grades 6-8, or High School

Monitor & Limit Entertainment Screen Time

In 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics revised their screen time recommendations and now encourage parents to focus on the content on the screen itself. The AAP recommends limiting recreational/entertainment screen time to one to two hours per day for children over age two (source). There is no screen time limit for educational content and use. More tips from the AAP about children and media. Talk with your child about the amount of entertainment screen time s/he spends. Talk with your child about the amount of entertainment screen time s/he spends. On an smartphone (or iPad), simply go to Settings>Battery and tap the clock to view the number of minutes per day/week spent in each app. Set goals for reducing entertainment screen time if necessary.

Experts suggest having children surf the internet in a central place at home, such as the kitchen or family room, rather than away from adult supervision or behind a closed door. Know what your child is doing with technology and how his or her time is being spent. Technology can be a great tool and resource, but also has the potential to be a distractor. Help your child learn to focus on completing tasks or assignments first before spending time on games, shopping and social networking. Teaching today’s children how to manage multiple sources of information and potential distractions is a critical life skill, one best learned before heading off to college or the workplace.

Most home WiFi routers allow time limit configurations for devices on their network. This means a device can be limited in the amount of time it is able to use WiFi at home if so desired. Each router manufacturer will have specific instructions on how to set this up.

Keep Tech Out of the Bedroom Overnight

Parenting experts suggest parking all technology devices, from cell phones to iPads, in a common spot overnight to discourage late night, unmonitored use and sleep disruption. Don’t allow your child to sleep in a room with an iPad, laptop or cell phone. Remember to model appropriate use and balance of technology in your own life, too!

Filters

All Minnetonka School iPads have built-in filtering software blocking access to inappropriate sites regardless of whether the device is at school or off campus. This built-in filter overrides any filtering you may have at home. Many home routers do allow for time limits to be set for network traffic, so parents may choose to do this. Parents can setup additional site blocking, such as blocking YouTube if desired, through the iPad's Guided Access and Restrictions.

Children often have complete, unrestricted access to inappropriate sites on other personal devices such as home computers and cell phones. Experts strongly suggest installing software to filter and block inappropriate content on your wireless home network. Filters can be set to block Internet access completely or block certain sites like pornography, social media, and gaming. Further, filters allow a parent to completely control when access is open/closed to such sites. These same tools allow parents to control any wireless device, whether it is a laptop, a smartphone with a web browser or other personal device. Without any filtering software at home, a user can get to any site on any device, including a desktop computer.

Some possible filters to consider include OpenDNS (Here's a short, two minute instructional video for you describing how easy this is to do with free OpenDNS software), or if you have a newer computer with Microsoft Windows or Mac iOS, the software may be part of the operating system- it’s called Parental Controls and there may be no need to buy anything else. You can also turn on the free tools within Google and YouTube to activate stricter filters on web, image, and video searches. TV cable companies offer filtering services as well-- to find out, search Google for your provider along with the words "parental controls" to learn how to access these features.

Take the time to set up some content filters for your children today. Kids are naturally curious and won't filter for themselves. Viewing portrayals of risky behavior can make it seem "normal" when it is not the norm. Often, the reality of negative consequences is left out, leaving kids with a skewed impression of normal standards of behavior, as well as unresolved questions and emotions about the implications of explicit content that they don't fully grasp.

Cell Phones

One of the quickest, best ways to put a filter on a cell phone is to use Restrictions. On both Apple and Droid devices, Restrictions allow you to create a separate password from your child's screen lock and limit web content, app installs, purchases, ratings for movies/apps/explicit language, and much more. The default setting for websites that are restricted through Apple iOS is pretty strict, but seems to offer the best option at this time. You can add a few sites to a whitelist, but your child may need to go to a desktop computer with a more robust filter or need you to enter in your Restrictions password to temporarily access some sites.

Curbi is a great option for parents to filter and monitor their child's Droid or iPhone/personal iPad and provides valuable data to spark conversations around the use of technology. Curbi filters both cellular and WiFi connections. Read more about Curbi here. There may be other products that offer safe browser apps, but be sure to note these may only filter the internet when it is accessed through their app--for example, if your child accesses a webpage through Instagram, it will bypasses that product’s filtered browser app.

Some cell phone providers may offer filtering services parents can choose to activate, but these are limited to cellular connections and don't include WiFi, and may not work on 4G networks. To learn more, simply Google your service provider with the words "parental controls." Carriers may offer services to monitor text messages and other features.

Apple Guided Access & Restrictions such as YouTube

To help children, parents and/or teachers may wish to use Guided Access to temporarily limit iPad use to a specific app or set up time limits. View instructions on Guided Access. These Apple tools work on iPhones, too.

In addition to the built-in filtering on students’ iPads, parents and/or teachers may consider using Restrictions which allow additional websites such as YouTube to be blocked. YouTube has many educational videos and teachers use it regularly for instruction. Blocking YouTube will prevent your child from accessing these resources, completing homework and learning. Many things can be both entertaining and educational. While teachers work with students about appropriate and responsible use of tools like YouTube, the District also encourages parents to help guide their children in exploring this aspect of technology, as navigating such sites is becoming a necessary skill for their future. The District's position is that restricting access to YouTube should only be used temporarily with a goal of getting students back to managing it without restrictions and balancing their use of the tool for entertainment with the need to complete homework in a timely manner. View instructions on Restrictions.

Other Parenting Tips

  • Maintain open communication with your child about technology use, regularly asking your child about his or her computer activities.
  • Follow the suggested age minimums for social media. Most tools like Instagram and Snapchat don't allow children under age 13 to join.
  • Ask to get a tour of the sites your child visits.
  • Proactively set guidelines for computer use at your house, as well as when they are with friends. Print off, discuss, and sign a Common Sense Family Media Agreement.
  • Google family members to be aware of your cyber footprint online. Set up a Google Alert for each family member for free.
  • Anything we do or post online creates a digital record, often called your "Digital Footprint." Nothing online is totally private, even if you intend it to be. Once digitized, it can be saved, sent and reposted elsewhere.
  • A good rule of thumb: If you don’t want a parent, teacher, principal, future employer or college admissions office to know something, don’t post it online. Ask yourself, "Would Grandma approve?"
  • "Friends" aren’t always who they say they are; undercover police and pedophiles pretend to be kids online. Encourage your child to only be friends online with individuals they have met in person.
  • Be cautious when posting personal information online. This includes: full name, address, phone number, email, cell phone, checking in on social media sites, where you are meeting friends or where you hang out. Discuss how easy it is for someone to find you based on what you post online.
  • Regularly check privacy settings on all commonly used sites and networks. Ignoring privacy settings on sites like Instagram and Facebook means your photos, contact information, interests, and possibly even cell phone number and GPS location could be shared with more than a billion people.
  • Cyberbullying (threatening or harassing another individual through technology), is a growing concern for today’s youth. It takes many forms, such as forwarding a private email, photo, or text message for others to see, starting a rumor, or sending a threatening or aggressive message, often anonymously. Talk with your child about not partaking in this behavior, and encourage her/him to report it to an adult. Some videos online to help kids understand this include Ad Council Commercials Talent Show (Elementary and Middle School Students) or Kitchen (High School Students), as well as NetSmartz.org’s videos on Broken Friendship (Secondary Students) or You Can’t Take It Back (Secondary Students).
  • Know your child’s passwords. This enables you to gain access to their e-mail, social networking sites, etc. in case of an emergency.


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