mom taking photo of kids wearing backpacks

As students return to classrooms, families are often focused on meeting their children’s new teachers, making sure they have adequate school supplies, and establishing drop off and pick up routines. Sometimes the busy nature of starting the school year leaves little room for families to engage in conversations about how digital habits and choices might need to be evaluated or adjusted. 

As your family begins a new school year, here are five questions to consider:

Are your children getting enough sleep?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that children aged 6-12 get 9 to 12 hours of sleep each night, while teenagers aged 13-18 get 8 to 10 hours of sleep. Adequate sleep is a key factor for student success in the classroom. Nighttime digital habits can play a big role in the amount and quality of sleep that a child or teenager gets. According to the Sleep Foundation, “using devices that produce artificial blue light in the evening and nighttime disrupts our natural sleep-wake cycle by tricking the brain into not producing melatonin before bed. This causes us to feel less sleepy than we should at bedtime.” Families should establish rules that outline when devices will be put away each night, where devices will be stored, and help their children develop device-free bedtime routines. 

What are your rules for sharing information with new friends?
Making new friends is a common part of starting a new school year, and children often spend as much time communicating with friends outside of school through gaming, texting, or social media as they do communicating in person. Families should talk to their children about what information is okay to share with their new friends. Establish rules for whether or not your children are allowed to share their gamer tags, cell phone numbers, and screen names with other children they meet at school. Also, talk to your children about what they should and should not share with others online while they are still building friendships. Remind them that what they put online becomes part of their digital footprint and that they should be mindful about not sharing things that are too personal, especially with friends they just met.

How are you protecting your children and their data?
The last thing children usually think of when creating new accounts is what data will be collected about them and how that data will be used. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) prohibits operators of websites from collecting personal information about children under the age of 13. For this reason, children under 13 are not able to create accounts on most social media and gaming platforms. Some children circumvent that process by falsifying their age when creating accounts. It is important for families to talk to their children about how data is collected and often sold to third parties. It is also important for families to remind their children that age restrictions are in place for their protection and that using platforms such as Snapchat, Twitch, Instagram, Discord, and TikTok opens them up to content and interactions that might be inappropriate for their age. 

How are you monitoring your child’s online activity?
During the school year, many families find themselves running from activity to activity leaving both adults and children exhausted by the end of the day. Monitoring your children’s online activity can feel like one more thing added to your long list of “to-dos”. There are many ways to check in on your child’s internet activity without having to engage in long heated discussions.

For mobile devices, using built-in Apple and Android Parental Controls can help you restrict content and monitor your child’s activity and time spent using specific apps. 

Asking your children about their favorite apps or making the experience a family affair can also be helpful. Whether you play Roblox with your children, create your own Snapchat account and send Snaps back and forth, watch your favorite TikTok videos together or just simply have a conversation about what apps are trending and how your children are using them, exposing yourself to the various apps your children are using and the content of those apps can be very helpful in guiding your discussions with them. 

For parents who would like a more technical approach to monitoring, there are a variety of monitoring services they can choose from. This list from introduces a few options that families can explore. Families can also look at the Parental Controls page of our EGUSD Digital Citizenship website for additional suggestions and products. 

How mindful are you about what you share online?
While families often focus on what children are sharing online, it is also important for parents and other caregivers to be mindful of what information they are sharing about their children online. While family members love to see photos of their nieces, nephews, and grandchildren on their first day of school, it is important that families be mindful of how that information can also be used by hackers, scammers, and predators. As St. Louis County Police Department Public Information Officer Adrian Washington states in this recent Newsweek article, “Everyone loves the first day, back-to-school posting, but some of the things we normally put on those boards are sometimes family passwords and oftentimes, those pictures are taken in front of your house. So you’re making it easy for someone to track and find who you are and use some of those words to discover a family password.” Protecting children’s information is the responsibility of the entire family. 

In closing, while navigating and monitoring digital habits might seem daunting as you begin this school year, it’s necessary for keeping your children healthy and safe.