George Lucas Educational Foundation
Family Engagement

Can There Be Too Much Connectivity Between Parents and Children?

September 22, 2017 Updated September 21, 2017

Back when I was a kid (oh my word, did I just say that?) the rule was to come back home when the street lights came on. I played in my neighborhood with friends some days with my parents never laying eyes on me but at lunch and supper and then at bedtime. I learned curse words from the neighborhood kids, I learned about sexual things on the bus from neighborhood kids, and I also learned we all were raised with different values...many of neighborhood friends were raised with more freedom than I had- I mean they could even watch HBO!

When I started driving and dating the rule was to always have a quarter on me in case I needed to call home. There were no cell phones. I left for school at 6:30 in the morning and sometimes went straight to work after school and didn't get home until 10:00 pm some nights. And my parents never really knew if I was where I was suppose to be or if I made it to my next destination. There was a level of responsibility and trust placed on children by being unconnected from today's technology. 

My parents knew my grades when progress reports went out and then again when we got our report cards. They never knew the day to day "missing grade," "bad test score," or "current average in class." My grades and my work were my responsibility.

Stick with me here. I'm not saying that parenting was better, I'm just saying it was different and generation after generation have made it through life without being tethered to their children.

So why am I going on about this? As a technology coordinator in an elementary school I am a season in my educational career where technology is integrated into the classroom on a regular basis. The progression being that for the first 9 years at the school I am at I was an out of classroom elementary  computer teacher. Over those 9 years I taught every student in grades 1-5 anywhere from 30-45 minutes a week. In that time frame our families were just excited that technology was a weekly part of their children's curriculum and out of the 1000+ students I taught for all those years I might have been questioned by families about my curriculum 12 times in nine years...and by question I mean "what do they do in here?" This role began for me in 2005ish. I had 25 Microsoft desktops in a lab. To say filtering has gotten progressively better since those first few years of popups and spam would be the biggest understatement of this blog post. I was a vigilant ninja monitoring and creating meaningful opportunities for our students using the best technology that was available to me at the time.

Fast forward to this school year...This year we rolled out touchscreen Chromebooks to our fifth graders. These chromebooks are being monitored by Go Guardian software. Every time a student looks up something deemed inappropriate or an innocent search leads to something inappropriate, I get an email. Right then. This software works 24 hours a day no matter where the student is located at the time. I get an email. I have the ability to look at history at any point.

We also have a SIS (student information system) that allows parental access to the real time grade book of our students. Parents can see what grade a child has made on a test, they can receive an email if there is a zero for a grade, they can contact a teacher if a grade hasn't appeared in the amount of time the school has deemed appropriate for grading.

Our students have the ability to collaborate with teachers and/or students through the Google Suite for Education in real time. They can study together via video conferencing, they can collaborate synchronously on a document or slideshow using Google Docs and Slides. They can use their email to contact their teachers at any time, day or not, with questions.

The overwhelming majority of our students have cell phones in our upper school (and some even have them in the elementary school). This allows our students to not only be connected to each other but to their parents and the outside world at all times.

Not only can parents monitor their children's whereabouts through the GPS tracking device on their phones but I can search for a device on campus that might not be where it should be as well.

Today's children live in a society of instant connectivity that has created a world of "immediate expectations." This has probably helped some students not to stumble as deep or dark as they might have otherwise in life. As a parent of a type 1 diabetic, I have the ability to know my child's blood sugar at any time during the day. That's reassuring. But I find myself asking these questions and I would love some response and thought on it:

  • Does constant connectivity give parents a false sense of security?
  • Does constant connectivity create a larger generation of people that are use to having someone bail them out when times get tough?
  • Does constant connectivity create unrealistic expectations on educators in terms of replying to emails and monitoring student behavior on devices?
  • Does constant connectivity create more pluses in life than minuses?
  • Does constant connectivity make students behave better in terms of school and parent expectations?
  • Should parents be monitoring the constant whereabouts of their children?
  • Does constant connectivity take away the ability for students to learn from mistakes and fail forward in becoming a better person?
  • What is too much? What is too little? What is a no-brainer? What crosses the line of controlling?
  • Are school systems creating expectations that change parenting styles of tech diligent families due to students being required to have technology?
  • How do families best find the balance for their children and should expectations be different for every child?
  • How do technology departments make sure they are using technology intentionally at schools?
  • How do technology leaders like myself communicate and help parents that feel like they are being forced into something they don't want for their children?
  • How do we prepare children, parents, and teachers for the road ahead that will include more wearable and integrated technology such as virtual reality?
  • Who is making sure that the future of edtech is morally sound?

These questions may open a can of worms but they are constantly on my mind. The truth is technology is not going away and it will be an important part of the lives of our current and future students. Creating a give and take culture to navigate forward with all the key players is imperative in any school system to understand all sides and place value on all views. 

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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