How to Talk to Parents About Safety on School-provided Technology

More and more of today’s parents are digital natives who grew up with laptops, tablets and smartphones as part of their lives, so unlike previous generations, they often don’t need schools to explain to them the basics of how educational technology works.

Of course, when it comes to the hardware and software that their children are using in school, there still will be a lot of questions. For these parents, who have decades of experience with both the wonders and the pitfalls of technology, one topic that inevitably comes up is safety.

While it’s true that online safety begins at home and parents will always be their kids’ first technology teachers, schools certainly owe it to their parents to have an open dialogue about the safety of the edtech they’re providing. Here are a four tips for educators on how to tackle this tricky subject with parents.

Be clear about what protection the school provides. Do you have a web filter that restricts the online content that users on the school network can access? Or do you have a system that provides early warnings of harmful interactions that might be happening on the network, or when students use school-provided communication tools like G Suite for Education or Office 365? That’s an important distinction that parents might not make intuitively.

Also, if students are using school-provided devices, parents need to know how those devices are protected once they leave school property. Kids being kids, they’ll always want to explore their devices and poke around outside of approved apps and accounts, and parents need to be aware of the potential consequences. That being said…

Don’t be alarmist. Through the news and social media, parents are bombarded with enough horror stories about the dangers that await their children in the badlands of the Internet. Schools don’t need to add to the cacophony, and are better off focusing on the safety precautions they have in place, as well as what they are doing to teach digital literacy and combat cyberbullying.

Be proactive. Cyberbullying is a serious issue, with about 50% of teenagers reporting that they have been bullied online. Both the perpetrator’s and the target’s parents should be made aware of the incident as soon as possible. Understanding what happened and how it affected the learning environment will make them more likely to work with the school on constructive steps to make sure that the issue doesn’t recur.

Always remember that most parents think that their kids are good kids. Whether you’re reporting cyberbullying or you notice a student putting him or herself in danger online, it’s essential to separate the behavior from the person. Parents absolutely need to know what happened, but delving into why it happened is a matter for an ongoing dialogue with the ultimate goal of making school a safer and happier place for all students.

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