The Mamas and the Papas

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a Japan International School Tech Gathering (JISTG) with members of my school’s tech team. It was a great chance to share strategies and ideas with other tech folks from around Japan and the topics included everything from back office maintenance to hardware providers in Japan to Seesaw. One topic that came up more than once and in more than one session or conversation was the topic of digital citizenship. Lots of schools are either creating a new scope and sequence or hoping to amend the one that they currently have. Within these discussion there was a thread that I wanted to unwind in this week’s blog post because it was universal, contentious, and brought up over and over again. The issue was PARENTS.

(2018). Retrieved 16 April 2018, from

In a room full of tech coaches and IT specialists, everyone can more or less agree that the schools that we work for (and by proxy, us) are at least in some part responsible for teaching students digital citizenships skills. Many international schools have a 1-to-1 or BYOD policy and when you require students to use tech at school, you bear the responsibility of teaching them how to use it. At my school we have a Responsible Use Policy that all students discuss and sign every year and we spend time in school teaching best practice and monitoring our student’s behavior on our school-wide forums like blogs and the school’s Facebook page. I’m in the process of brainstorming for a digital citizenship month in the fall that will hopefully give students a solid start at the beginning of the year and all of this is wrapped up in the tech scope and sequence and informed by the ISTE standards. We have thought about this, talked about it, had meetings about it, and work on it almost daily. We are doing the work and taking this seriously. And it feels good! I think that doing the work pays off in the form of students who are able to manage themselves well online…most of the time. But where does our planning and oversight and responsibility end and parent’s responsibility begin?

Full disclosure: I am not a parent! So if what I am about to say is blasphemy from the mouth of a person who does not know how very, very wrong she is, feel free to comment below. I am not a parent…but I have been a babysitter, nanny, and an auntie and I have two education degrees, so I’m not totally clueless when it comes to spending time with children. In my experience, if there are problems with technology it is usually worth examining if there is a disconnect between the messages received at school and the messages received at home, especially when it comes to how we communicate online and the role that devices play in our lives. Over the years I have heard the following from teachers about their student’s and children’s tech lives:

“There’s a kid in my 2nd grader’s class whose parents got her an iPhone X! She’s 7!”

“Some of the worst comments on Seesaw weren’t from kids, they were from parents.”

“There are kids in my KG class that are put to bed with an iPad.”

“Some of the emails that I get from parents are just one line directives. No “Dear Mr. So and So”, nothing.”

“My son’s friend said that only poor people don’t have iPads and she has 2.”

“One of our parents had their email hacked because they used their first name as the password.”

“Many parents that I talk to see smartphones as a toy that you give as a birthday gift and there is no oversight for how it’s used.”

“A kid in my class emailed me at 2am last night because his mom said that he couldn’t go to sleep until he finished his assignment.”

“One of my students has a YouTube channel that her mother created to promote her daughter’s modelling work and some of the comments were pretty scary.”

What these statements tell me is that we need to be putting as much effort into educating parents as we do their children.

I don’t think that it is the place of the school to say that you should or should not give an elementary age kid a smartphone, but we would be remiss if we didn’t at least try to share with parents some of the reasoning and research behind what we teach kids at school about technology. We have no control over how many devices they have at home or how they are used, but the messages that they get at home influence how they act in our classrooms and we want our messages to be as well informed and helpful as possible. I think that digital citizenship is a partnership between kids, teachers, and parents, and that triangle falls apart if one angle is missing. I don’t mean to demonize parents and like I said, I could be way off base here, but it often feels like we put a LOT of time, energy, and effort into our digital citizenship lessons at school and parents aren’t always holding up their side of the bargain. Do they even know that there IS a bargain? The #1 complaint that I get from teachers about parents is that they seem to be reluctant to…parent. How many teachers have heard parents say, “Oh, I can’t do that, my kid wouldn’t want to.”

Folks, I am not paid enough to teach AND parent your child.

Now I’m not perfect. I know what it’s like to have a long day and reach the point of “Netflix take the wheel”. Go ahead and buy your 7 year old a $1000 phone…but at least have a conversation with them about it. Parents are so often frustrated by the behaviour that they see around devices but they often seem unwilling to make hard choices about controlling how those devices are handled. We aren’t asking for perfection here, just a little bit of mindfulness when it comes to devices at home and how they’re used. International school students are often coming from a place of immense privilege but sometimes wealth can be harmful in some unpredictable ways.

So parents: am I being unrealistic? Is there something that I don’t know because I don’t have my own kids? Or do you have the same concerns about your own children and their friends? I teach parent tech sessions but I find that the same 10 parents attend and they aren’t the parents that I’m trying to reach- any suggestions for getting the attention of the other 95% of parents? I’m sure that I’m missing a valuable perspective here and hubris is my greatest downfall so I know that I have a lot to learn!

zola1of7. (2015). zola1of7. Retrieved 16 April 2018, from
3 comments to “The Mamas and the Papas”
3 comments to “The Mamas and the Papas”
  1. YES! What a fabulous post to put out there – it’s bursting with passion and belief. I’m really keen to hear from the cohort on this. I know at our school we have a couple of ES kids with Apple Watches that are connected to their phones that are properly tucked away in lockers. We are leaning toward (or maybe we have already?) banning them but parents want them on their kids and are reluctant to give them up. They have become reliant on many of the features, and it’s not just being able to call them or message them at will, it’s tracking their location. It’s such a battle to promote digital citizenship and balance family expectations and norms.

    • Thanks! Yeah, some parents seem to want immediate access to their kids even if it means interrupting their child’s (and their classmate’s!) work. I really see this as one of the harmful side effects of wealth. If you have enough money to live comfortably but can’t afford to give your kid an expensive phone or watch, you might actually be helping your kid do better educationally, socially, and emotionally.

  2. I am in a very similar situation to you, I have no kids of my own, yet I am responsible for guiding our families in the area of technology use with their children. You said a lot of things that spoke to me, especially surrounding the area of working with such privileged families. I don’t think we can prevent families from giving their children devices, however, as you said, providing guidelines and balance is key in a situation like this. If we are going to spend time teaching children how to do things like put on their own shoes or cross the road safely, we need to spend equal amounts of time guiding them through each new technological tool or program they may begin to use. Children are children, they have little knowledge of the world until they are exposed to it. Without guidance, who knows what they may learn! Thanks for your thoughts 🙂

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