Parents. I am an assistant principal in a middle school (grades 6-8). My number one job is to create and sustain a school environment where both students and teachers feel safe (physically, emotionally, and mentally) to teach, learn, innovate, and socialize. I take my job very seriously, as do my colleagues, and we work very hard to grow in our capacity to do this work daily.
I can’t begin to describe how much time I spend every day dealing with issues that stem from unsupervised cell phone usage by our students. In the situations where I have to search a student’s cell phone, I often get sick to my stomach at what I find (highly inappropriate photos, videos, messages, social media usage, etc.). The things our students are willing to try and be a part of at such a young age gets worse and worse every year.
When I call parents to inform them of what is going on I always ask them how often they look through their kids’ phones. The shock gets even worse when 90% of them say hardly ever or never. And then they get upset at me, accuse me of lying to them about their kids’ roles in certain situations, or expect me to somehow fix the situation.
Parents, it is your number one job as a parent to get in your kids’ way at all times. Kids do not deserve privacy without accountability. You own their devices, not them. You should be having the hard conversations with them about life, relationships, their bodies, their futures, etc. It is your responsibility to provide social and emotional support, help build coping skills, and monitor their activities, especially online. Please stop actively working against the schools and start working with us. We are not the enemy. We are trying to fulfill the role of both parent and educator in many situations and that is a very delicate and difficult line to walk.
Here are 3 tips for “getting in your child’s way.” You can modify any of these based on your relationship with your children.
1. Eat dinner as a family every night possible and actually talk.
No devices allowed. Current research suggests that parents only spend about 8 minutes a day in conversation with their kids. That’s unacceptable.
2. Check their devices RANDOMLY AND OFTEN.
You need to learn how to navigate their world. Inform yourself on how to use certain apps. Keep up with what apps are the most downloaded in the App Store. Make your kid show you their content and conversations and explain to you what is going on. Then give them advice. MAKE CONTENT WITH THEM and be part of their online presence.
3. Create opportunities for them to have experiences.
Take them to do new things, see new things, and learn new things. This not only strengthens their brain development, emotional development, and builds resiliency in kids but it also strengthens your relationship with them.
And finally, do not let them take their phones into their rooms, shut their doors, and disappear for hours. Nothing good ever happens on the internet behind closed doors. The online world is by far the most dangerous place our students go to every day. We can’t assume that they will intuitively know how to navigate the dangers of the online world on their own.
Please, help us with this.