Managing Media: Back to School Tips for Parents (2014)

Matthew Johnson

The beginning of another school year is here, and as it does many parents are beginning to wonder how they can help their kids ease out of summertime media habits. In addition to having to establish new rules for media use, parents may also face a barrage of requests and questions from their kids regarding digital technology, such as: Am I old enough to have a cell phone? Can I bring it to school? How about my iPod? What about Facebook or Twitter – all my friends are on them, I need to use them to talk about my homework!

Here are some guidelines for dealing with media issues as your kids get ready to strap on their backpacks and head back to the classroom:

  • Screen time. For many kids, summer is screen time – whether it's TV, YouTube, video games or all three. (Our Young Canadians in a Wired World research found that YouTube is the #1 site among Canadian students in grades 4 to 11.)  A later bedtime often goes along with this, which can make reining in screen time even more difficult. The best approach is to start setting limits on screen time a couple of weeks before school starts, and impose a "screen and tech curfew" at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Cell phones and mobile devices. There's no easy way to say if a child is old enough for a cell phone. The number of Canadian kids who use a cellphone or smartphone to access the Internet climbs rapidly as they get older, from just one in four in Grade 6 to more than half in Grade 8 and rising to three-quarters in Grade 11. You may decide to let a younger child have a more basic phone, but you may want to begin with a plan that doesn't allow texting (kids' favourite thing to do with phones, and a likely source of conflict with teachers) or even one that only calls pre-programmed numbers. Either way, make sure your kids know their school's rules on cell phone use and discuss phone and texting etiquette.
    • For more information about how kids can use mobile devices safely, see our tipsheet on Mobile Devices.
    • Our research shows that sexting by kids 13 and under is extremely rare, but it does start to rise in Grade 9 (though even in Grade 11 only one in six students have ever sent a sext to someone.) Our tipsheet Talking to Your Kids About Sexting includes tips on how to talk to your kids about sending, receiving and forwarding sexts.
  • Schoolwork. After two or more months of using the computer exclusively for entertainment, you kids' search and study skills may be a bit rusty. Spend a little time doing a refresher course on finding what you want (and avoiding what you don't want) on search engines and on telling the difference between good and bad information in blogs, websites and online encyclopedias like Wikipedia (the #10 top site among Canadian students in grades 4 to 11). Go over the school's rules for Internet use, find out how the school communicates with students and parents online and discuss ethical issues like plagiarism with older children. If your school uses social networks (such as a Facebook page) to communicate with students but you think your child isn't ready to be on them, you can set up a joint account to use with them to access the school page.
  • The social scene. For a lot of kids, the beginning of school is also the first time they'll have seen many of their friends in months, and the return to the social whirl. These days that often means socializing online either through social networks or virtual worlds: reading and posting on social networks are some of Canadian students’ most popular online activities. Talk to your kids about how to avoid online drama, how to make good choices about things like tagging or posting photos and how to cope with the fear of being left out if they log off.

Don’t forget that it’s never too late to set household rules for using the Internet and digital devices. Our research found that students were less likely to engage in things like sharing private information, going to inappropriate websites and mistreating other people online if there were rules in the home on the topic. Our tipsheet Family Online Rules is a great way to get you started.