I’m revealing my age by saying that I can remember getting our first black and white home computer, which took pride of place in the dining room for the whole family to use. My first cell phone didn’t come until college, when social media was non-existent.


Our children are growing up in a completely different world as it relates to technology. This can be exciting! There is so much they can learn about, and opportunities for collaboration become even wider-reaching. At the same time, it can be scary. What are they being exposed to? Are they becoming dependent on devices? Are they safe online at school?


I spoke with representatives from three of the Austin area’s largest school districts about the most common technology-related parental concerns. Let’s peel back the layers of this issue and examine it a bit more.


Classroom technology usage varies by district and by grade level. In some Austin schools, you’ll find entire classes of kindergarteners with individual iPads, while in other schools, devices are stored in mobile carts and moved between classrooms. In most cases, high schoolers are issued their own device to use at school and at home.


Computers were first introduced in schools on the premise that technology would be part of the future, and students should be prepared to succeed. It was the rare person, however, who envisioned how quickly we would become a truly digital world. As one district employee says, “There has been a shift from students needing to learn how to use technology to technology being the air that they breathe.”


Until relatively recently, school districts focused primarily on network infrastructure, device procurement and content acquisition. Today, the technology is there, and students know how to use it — many enter into formal education already carrying that knowledge. Districts are now turning their focus from building out technology to addressing usage issues.


A common parental complaint is that technology is regularly used in a non-academic way at school, a result of districts primarily focusing on technology acquisition. Staff are now being educated about using technology with best practices. Simply put, best practices are to use technology only when it makes teaching more effective, when students employ it as creators versus consumers and when learning can be personalized for the student.


Parents are also alarmed by the amount of screen time students are exposed to at school. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screen time viewing of less than two hours per day. Oftentimes, children are exposed to this amount of screen time in the school day alone. Device usage has been, in many cases, up to the discretion of the individual teacher. The shift toward best practices aims to rein in student screen time amounts. When technology is used as a tool, not a toy, screen time exposure drops dramatically.


The most common parental concern is exposure to inappropriate content. All three Austin school districts I spoke with have established safeguards to protect students. Computer Wi-Fi networks and school-issued devices restrict access to content. AISD has the most restrictive policy — all websites are blocked until proven safe. When access to a specific site is requested, it must first be reviewed, then approved. In the case of popular site YouTube, each individual video must be approved before viewing.


Districts are also employing tools that allow teachers to better monitor student usage and exposure to inappropriate content. One district used the summer to roll out Apple Classroom, which enables a teacher to quickly glance at a student’s screen to see if he or she is on task.

Ultimately, though, schools can’t completely protect our children in this new digital world. Network filters are not fail-safe, and students can use personal cell phones to circumvent school Wi-Fi safeguards. Even if your child doesn’t have a smart phone, he or she will still have access to a friend’s phone.


This is where we must have important conversations with our children — from a young age. What should you do if you see something inappropriate online? What is cyberbullying? Why is it important to be aware of screen time and how it makes you feel?


And we can be mindful of how much media our children have already consumed by the time they get home from school. As hard as it can be, we can institute screen-free afternoons, cell-free dinner times and no technology-in-the-bedroom policies. And we can educate ourselves about the new world in which our children are growing up.


In my case, it’s been tempting to try to keep my children safe by holding them back from technology, but that’s no longer a realistic approach. Instead, my job is to model appropriate consumption, to provide safeguards, to educate them as to responsible usage and to help them learn to self-monitor. Parents, it’s a big task, but we can do it!

Alison Bogle is an Austin-based freelance writer and a mom of three.

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