By Nick Yates, ISB Communications
There are many different approaches to parenting, and nowhere is this more the case than with access to digital technology. The internet has opened up a world of possibilities for today's young people, yet it also presents dangers – from addictions, to inappropriate media, to cyber bullying. How to supervise children's behavior online is a key question for any parent.
That's why the International School of Beijing (ISB) has designated April Media Mentor Month, with a calendar of suggested activities in English and Mandarin for parents to use as ways to engage with their daughters or sons on what they are doing on screen. Ahead of April, ISB educational technology coordinators and counselors organized the first in a series of workshops they plan to run as platforms for parents and the school's experts to discuss approaches to tech use.
"Kids learn through modeling and us setting good examples," said Clint Hamada, PK-12 Educational Technology Coordinator. "Children may be skilled in using digital technology, but they are not able to make good decisions on how they use it unless you model for them. Media Mentor Month is an opportunity to open up conversations that allow us to model good habits and talk about what families value.
"Our counselors get a lot of questions about where to start conversations on online behavior. This is where to start."
Mr. Hamada highlighted research showing three distinct parenting styles when it comes to supervising tech use. "Digital Limiters" keep their children away from the internet and often strictly limit screen time. "Digital Enablers" respect their children's abilities to make their own choices online and take cues from other families on how to use technology. Meanwhile, "Digital Mentors" enjoy spending time with their children online, cultivating their kids' skills and fostering online learning.
When looking at the percentage of children who have misbehaved online, digital researcher Dr. Alexandra Samuel found it is the children of Digital Mentors who often make the best choices. It is this third model that is advocated by ISB, where students are given iPads from PK3 and technology is a catalyst and enabler of learning. The school believes that affective tech infusion also helps bridge the gap between discrete content and skills and real-world tasks and interactions.
ISB's Media Mentor Month is adapted from an initiative started by Swiss international school GEMS World Academy. Daily activities on the calendar range from playing your child's favorite videogame with them, to having a conversation with your child using only emoji, to video-chatting a relative together.
The month builds on the Responsible Use Agreements that ISB uses to guide students' use of classroom technology. These contracts between the school and students or parents/guardians are designed to reference the school rules of Be Safe, Be Respectful and Be Responsible in the context of classroom technology.
Family Media Agreements between parents and their children have also become a means for adults to lead development of a Media Mentor model at home. Having open discussions around technology use as a family gives each member a chance to reflect on their own habits and what they hope to see from one another.
Attendees of ISB's first tech and parenting workshop on Tuesday, March 20 were invited to use worksheets to figure out their own Family Media Agreements.
"The workshop provided practical techniques on how to be a Media Mentor, like the calendar for Media Mentor Month. It got us thinking not just about digital media, but about how parents can have meaningful, constructive conversations with their kids," said Iris Rang, a parent of two children at ISB, in grades 5 and 10.
Watch this space for future workshops at ISB on this hot topic in 21st-century parenting.