Cell phones, computers, tablets, game systems - technology use is ubiquitous in our children’s lives. At McDonogh, faculty observe that younger children are using more technology earlier. It is not uncommon for lower school students to possess cell phones, the iPod touch, a tablet, and/or their own email, Skype or other social network accounts. Some children spend an enormous amount of time in front of electronic screens and online. The effect of long hours of daily use of technology use on brain development is not yet understood fully. While numerous educational studies show that careful technology use is an asset to learning, other studies show decreased attention span and ability to read deeply as a possible function of excessive technology use by children.
As educators we believe that there are many great benefits as well as some risks which we need to be mindful of associated with the use of technology by our students. We want to do everything we can to support children in safe and proper use of the technology. We are also concerned that students can get themselves into trouble because they do not fully understand the potential consequences of their online behavior. The speedy reach of technology today makes recovery from a child’s online mistakes more difficult. The perception of online anonymity and perceived or real lack of adult supervision, as well as the fact that words and actions spread far and fast online, means that many students possess technology that they are not fully ready to manage independently. Often, this is compounded when the children are more facile with the technology than the adults.
This places an added responsibility on us as parents and teachers. We do not want to discourage appropriate technology use, but we do want to encourage balance and supervision. Technology is an important part of children’s lives today and will play a significant role in their futures. Children should have exposure to age-appropriate technology, but balancing technology use does not have a downside. Carefully introducing cell phone use, connected internet use (iPod touch and tablets, gaming systems), and limiting screen time is a healthy parental decision.
Just as with any other responsibility, as children mature and develop a positive history of behavior and experience with technology, the amount of self-management of technology can increase. McDonogh has a thoughtful and age-appropriate introduction to technology through the curriculum here at school.
We realize that many younger students already possess these devices, but we would like to suggest that McDonogh Lower School students do not need cell phones except in specific circumstances (including spilt-home families and children with medical concerns). Likewise, we would recommend that screen time with all devices for our youngest students, even on iPods and eReaders, should be limited.
Although our Middle School students are required to bring a laptop for school each day for research, collaboration, and organization, we encourage parents to monitor their child’s use closely. Children age 10-14 should demonstrate responsible use of these technologies consistently over a period of time before being granted more freedom and more access. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a federal law that prohibits online businesses (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) from creating accounts for children under 13 without parental permission, and we agree with the spirit of the law, cautioning that social media use should be limited or closely monitored at those ages. Even for older children it is important that you remain involved in your child’s life online as you do offline. In Middle School, children are expected to use educational technology more frequently at school and at home, but this does not necessarily mean that the balance between online and offline should shift.
Finally, demonstrate appropriate technology use with your kids. Have device free time with your children, do not text while driving, and try to make it part of your life to have disconnected family time away from the distraction of text messages and buzzing mobile phones. Part of the process of guiding students to become well-rounded adults is helping them learn appropriate behaviors in the online world as well as offline. Your cooperation will help us ensure that every child learns to live a balanced life, and we thank you for your consideration.
Marie Allee, Ph.D.
Chief Information Officer