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Six Guardrails for Tech: Ways to help our kids discipline themselves with technology.

In the previous edition of Dewey’s Dimes, we explored Maggie Jackson’s work Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age as we discussed the pro’s and con’s of engaged technology for our students.  Today, I’d like to look at some disciplines that could be helpful as educators and parents partner together to help students come up with some boundaries for tech.  This list is by no means intended to be exhaustive.  I’d love comments on others that you have seen used effectively.


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A multitude of devices are readily at our students’ disposal. Do they have the discipline to maintain a healthy balance with relationships, reflection and meaning in their lives. Picture taken from OSXDaily.com


1.  A Screen Time Calendar at School: Many schools commonly employ the test calendar or assigned test days to prevent overloading students on one particular day.  Schools in one to one environments might consider having teachers sign-up for periods of full screen time, limiting total screen time to a reasonable amount (say up to 2 hours per week per teacher);  all of this is to say that schools need to be mindful that the early adopters don’t rob the opportunities from the holdouts among your teachers.  

2.  Parent-Teen Tech Pact at Home: It is important for teens to see parents disciplining themselves with regard to tech as well.  First on the pact should be an agreed one night a week when no phones, computers, or other devices are used starting after say 5 pm.  While this takes a great deal of forward planning for most, it is incredibly worthwhile.  Here in the South, since Wednesday is usually a church night, many folks are starting to make Wednesday night tech-free.

3.  Use Design Thinking and the Maker Movements to Engage Students w or w/o Tech: perhaps the most damaging factors of tech is the isolation trap our kids fall into and the lack of achievement after hours at a tech task.  Technology allows one to entertain herself for hours without a meaningful relationship or outcome.  Text conversations leave so much unsaid.  Games on computers leave so much not accomplished.  However, the DT and Maker movements force collaboration and fulfilling end products.  My suspicion is that much of the depression caused by tech in teens could be alleviated with the purpose of solving problems through design in collaboration or the wonder of creating a 3 dimensional finished product.  For more information about the Maker Movement and Maker Faires check out this months edition of Tech and Learning and the wonderful article by Gary A. Carnow and Sylvia Martinez.  For DT in Ed, great follows on twitter are @boadams1, @grantlichtman, @jbrettjacobsen.  Scan this code to go directly to the digital version of the Maker article.

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4. Realize that Smart/Cell Phones tend to be unregulated renegade in this conversationThe Deans at my school and I are constantly amazed at the lack of accountability students have with regard to their phones.  While we prohibit phones from being used during the school day unless the teacher has a specific project for their use, the minute the school day ends, students are entranced.  Texting while driving,overstimulation from texts, unfiltered phones with pornography, inappropriate to down-right mean social media like ask.fm all create a dangerous, unregulated environment for our teens.  Many parents, however, seem to treat their child’s phone as if it were their deep secret diary and think it too highly invasive to regulate.  We must intervene for our kids here.  They are dying for it.

5.  Turn your early adopter students into a Tech Squad at School: I first heard of the University of Alabama in Huntsville using this concept, but I am sure it is not their inspiration.  In step with their multiple tech degrees, UAH has a club on campus that purposefully hacks into the computer network there.  These school-sponsored, school-supervised hackers use their God-given talents for good.  They work with the tech team at the university to find holes in the system and work out bugs.  In exchange for their expertise, they get a good bit of license.  In a sense, they are given the forbidden fruit so all of the lust for it is gone and it helps the school.  At college prep schools like ours, I think this makes for a good deal of wisdom.  Most schools are not ready to offer the kinds of courses necessary to engage the most advanced students in this area, but having them work with the tech department gives them meaningful learning while being on the right side of the law.

6.  Turn off the tech between 5-7 pm: Having a two hour window each evening at home where there is time for undistracted thinking and learning makes incredible sense.  Detractors would say: “They need their computers to do their homework.” However, they don’t need technology to think, study, reflect, write, read.  Much of the aforementioned gets swept away with the glitter of technology.  It’s a little like this:  the days I have forgotten to bring my laptop to work were some of the most productive days I have ever had at school.  We need to create windows at home for students so they can have such meaningful thoughts.  Rest assured, the students who do this are calmer and usually do better academically.

Do you have other ideas to help discipline students in their tech use? I love to hear them @MikeZavada on Twitter or in the comments here.

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