500 Words

500 Words On...Technology & Parenting in the Era of COVID-19

Lucy Gray
Directory of Educational Technology
June 26, 2020
Once upon a time, I grew up on the North Shore in an era where free-range parenting was not a “thing.” It was more a way of life. Along with friends, I was allowed to roam the woods, ravines, beaches and parks near Lake Michigan where I grew up. We rode bikes uptown for ice cream, built forts in the woods, hunted for sea glass at the beach, and became familiar with trillium and other flora commonly found in my neighborhood. From what I recall, my afterschool life, too, was not particularly programmed. My parents encouraged my participation in a variety of activities. Still,  specialization in the arts and sports typically didn’t happen until high school, and even then, most kids were able to pursue multiple interests.

Our children’s lives are much different today. As parents, we are vividly aware of the world and are generally more cautious about letting children play outside unsupervised. Families are more scheduled for a variety of reasons, and sometimes there is little time for kids to play and daydream. Technology is omnipresent, and while access to information has been transformational, devices can be viewed as distractions and barriers to interaction. Compounding these shifts today is the coronavirus, which has isolated us even further. What do we do? Do we lament life as we knew it in our childhoods? Or, do we try to make sense of these shifts and figure out what best works for our family?

I hope the latter is the chosen approach in this era. Families need to be mindful of active versus passive use of technology, set appropriate limits for technology use and find ways to engage further. It’s easy to retreat behind devices; it’s much more challenging to have conversations and plan activities with intentionality that includes everyone in a family. Some resources that can help you figure out what’s best for your situation include NAEYC’s guidance on technology and media, Common Sense Media (specifically check out their research and family media toolkit), and the Pew Center’s collection of articles and research on teens and technology. 

At North Shore, we believe the active use of technology can support the experiential learning philosophy core to our educational program. First and foremost, we want to see students use technology to foster communication, creativity, collaboration, curiosity and critical thinking. We also hope students become producers of content, not just consumers of it. As parents, you can support these goals by encouraging active uses of technology; here are some curated suggestions for working with your child. Consider spending time together this summer playing Pokemon Go, going on a photo walk or listening to audiobooks of stories related to a location where you are traveling. Screentime certainly is a concern, particularly when children are passively using technology (watching videos, for example). However, given this day and age, we are relying on technology more than we did in our pre-coronavirus lives, and experts say it’s okay to let go a bit and consider the context. I encourage you to review how you can leverage shared digital experiences to serve as springboards for learning and exploration this summer!