SchoolFamily Voices

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Many experts warn children about the dangers of the Internet. We teach our children to never give their name, address, or phone number to anyone online. We watch them while online to make sure they do not visit inappropriate websites. As children become teens, we tend to back off and trust them to be careful while online. There are great risks for teens, however, and parents need to continue to watch diligently what their adolescents are doing online. The risks do change, but are just as dangerous as when our children were younger.

Teens often know as much or more than their parents do about their electronic devices. Step number one for protecting your teen is to learn what the risks are and what control you have over them. Here are some of the risks I often see affecting the kids I teach.

Lack of sleep. If adolescents take their tablet or smartphone to bed with them, they are likely communicating with their friends throughout the night. The culture now is to answer every tweet, posting, or message the second it goes online. Lack of sleep leads to poor performance in school, drowsiness while driving, and even to depression. It might not be easy to get him to agree, but your teen should turn the devices over to you before bed, and you should keep them with you overnight.

Online bullying. Bullying used to happen during the school day or before and after school. Now, it can go on 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. The effects of bullying are deep and devastating. It is important to monitor your teens’ online communications with other kids, and keep an ongoing dialogue about their activity there. If possible, connect with them on their social networks so that you see the comments as they are posted. Parents of all the children involved need to work together in positive ways to resolve the issues.

Becoming addicted to online video games. When your child needs more and more of something and it affects his ability to function normally, then he is addicted. We tend to think of drugs and alcohol addictions, but I have known teens and adults who are addicted to video games. For kids in school, their grades suffer, they are sleepy in school, and they frequently get into trouble because they are using their devices inappropriately in class. One defense for parents is to cut off the supply of funding for the games. To be really good at most of these games, the player must spend money to buy the advantage to win. If there is no money available, the game is not as much fun. Additionally, keeping the electronics away from them at night is important. If your child does not respond to these restrictions, he may need to see a psychologist who specializes in adolescent addiction.

Parenting teens is hard work. It is important to maintain diligent efforts to monitor your teen’s activities online in order to prevent serious consequences. Your child can perform poorly in school, have serious health consequences, or become addicted to online games. If you do not feel that you have adequate skills to know how to protect your child, sign up for a class or form an alliance with other parents of teens. Contact your child’s school to see if they are offering support, as well. Kids are healthier and happier when their parents work together with other parents and with the school.

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Teens spend a lot of time on social networks. We have all heard of Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook; but have you also heard of Whisper, Vine, and Yik Yak? It is difficult to keep up in the digital world when it is changing daily and our children are purposefully trying to find networks parents do not know about. It can seem daunting and scary. For this reason, it is more important than ever to keep informed and teach your children how to stay safe online.

According to the experts on social media and teens, the major concerns remain the same as always. First of all, there is a very real chance that teens will use the sites to bully others. It is so easy to “say” something online when it is not so obvious how much the words hurt another person. I personally have witnessed anxiety and depression that relates to online aggression. An additional concern is that kids are exposed to images, videos, and vulgar language on most of these sites. A quick search on a site will reveal how likely it is to find inappropriate content. A third concern is that adolescents measure their self-worth by how many of their friends and friends of friends “like” what they post. Their posts become more and more outrageous to get the attention of others. Additionally, people tend to post the good things that happen to them, which gives the impression they have a perfect life. When your child experiences normal failures and rough spots in life, she may become depressed that her life isn’t like everyone else’s. Finally, privacy remains a concern. If your son posts personal information online, predators can more easily find him. Organizations like Commonsense Media can help. Their article on 15 sites and apps that teens often use is helpful and presents the pros and cons of the sites.

Children need to learn how to protect themselves and others when online. It is not possible to watch what your child does at all times. Firewalls and parental control software at school and home provide a level of protection; but, they are far from perfect. Parents need to stress to their children that their online safety depends on them making good decisions. Personal information they give online is not necessarily private, even when they think they are only telling their friends. Pictures and videos they post now will be online forever. Colleges and prospective employers routinely search a person’s online presence when vetting a potential student or employee. How a person behaves online also affects their relationships with peers when in person. There can be unintended consequences to something posted even when there was no intent to hurt others. Sri Sathya Sai Baba, an Indian spiritual leader, once said, “Before you speak, think—Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?” I tell kids that everything they post online needs to pass this test. You can protect your child best by becoming an informed parent and teaching your child about online safety. 
There are many organizations that provide cyber safety information for parents and students. Some of my favorites are the FBI, Commonsense Media, and Netsmartz. Pick one of these sites or a similar one to inform yourself. Your child needs your help to stay safe when online.

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Many teens spend a great deal of time on social sites networking with friends. One concern I have about that relates to language skills. It is acceptable on these sites to use improper grammar and spelling, and we often blame autocorrect features on our digital devices rather than taking responsibility for posting poorly constructed sentences and misspelled words. Perhaps that can be something we as parents require of our children—to write correctly on social networking sites.

One of the most frequent errors is the misuse of the homonyms there, their, and they’re. Here is how I help my students remember which one to use.

  • Apostrophes in the middle of words often mean there is something left out. They’re is a shortened way to write two words—they are. Other examples are “don’t” for “do not” and “shouldn’t” for “should not.”
  • Their contains the word “heir,” which is a person. The word their always refers to a group of people. “Shoppers normally park their cars next to the grocery store where they are shopping.”
  • There contains the word “here,” which is a place. (This refers to the core meaning of the word “there.”) I can be here. I can be there. “The car is parked over there next to the grocery store” uses the correct homonym. There are other uses of the word, “there,” (such as the first word of this sentence), but this memory aid will often help make the decision which one to use. This rule of thumb especially helps when used in combination with the first two “rules.”

Parents should always be monitoring what their children are posting online. When you see your child use grammar incorrectly such as using the wrong homonym, you can use it as a teaching moment. Perhaps that will encourage him to practice writing correctly. He should not blame his smartphone (or other device) for the errors he posts. Everything posted online should be proofread. The extra time spent proofing also gives her time to think about whether what she is about to post is appropriate and thoughtful of others, but I will save that for another blog topic!

> Impulsive Students Need Guidance When Online
> Talk With Your Child About the Internet

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Word leaked this week that Facebook may be lifting its policy banning kids 13 and younger from opening an account, adding to the social media titan’s already registered 900 million monthly users.

The accounts for kids 13 and younger would require parental supervision, possibly by linking to a parent’s Facebook account, and/or limiting who kids can “friend” without parental approval. Some, however, say this is meaningless since it’s estimated that 7.5 million preteens and ‘tweens already use the site.


POLL: Will you allow your kids age 13 and younger to open a Facebook account?


What do you think? Some parents say “no way!” Others argue that a Facebook account for a ‘tween is no different than any of the popular apps kids download on their computers and phones—and according to a 2010 Kaiser study, 69 percent of 11-14 year-olds have cell phones! 

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Editor’s note: Principal Joe Mazza runs a weekly Twitter gathering each Wednesday evening called Parent-Teacher Chat (#PTchat). For more information on the chats, see information at end of this guest blog post.

The #PTchats I run allow parents, teachers, and school administrators from around the world to come together on Twitter for one hour to discuss family engagement topics. It’s very exciting that social media has allowed for this exercise in transparent perspective sharing where we can discuss how to best support kids!

During a recent #PTchat, the topic was parent-teacher conferences. Below, you will find actual “tweets” sent during the session; first, some from parents; next, those sent by teachers. The tweets reflect multiple perspectives, and cover the goals, latest research, and innovative tools used by teachers and parents to maximize parent-teacher conferences. These conferences, after all, are usually very short, so for the best interests of the student, parents and teachers must partner to make the most of these face-to-face opportunities.

Following are parent responses to the following scenario: Once you have secured your child’s meeting parent-teacher meeting, it’s important to enter the meeting with the correct shared-purpose in mind. What is your perspective about a parent-teacher conference? Why do you have that perspective? And what perspective do you think is best for your child? (Note: The responses use shortened language and symbols since tweets are limited to 140 characters each):

Tweets from the Parents’ Perspectives

“As a parent, I think it is critical to have opportunities to engage in a F2F (face to face) dialogue about my child's progress.”


“As a parent, I see how my kids can improve on what they're already doing.”


“Luv when kids are w/me @ meetings”


“ [When planning conferences] ask the parents what would work best for them?”


“Both sides go in w/open minds”


“Schools should set a goal for teachers to make at least 5 positive contacts a week with the parents of struggling students”

“For me, I want to know what the challenges are and [I want to] have specific ideas/tools on how I can support the learning at home”


Now it’s the teachers’ turn. Before, during, and after a parent-teacher conference, conscientious teachers have your child’s best interests in mind. At the same time, parents must remember that there are many things a teacher is trying to squeeze in during the short meeting. The goal is to maximize the time and have as much two-way dialogue occur as possible. If both parties are comfortable having the student present at the conference, it can be beneficial for the child to see the parent-teacher team working hard to help her be successful in school!

Wondering what’s going on inside the head of the teacher preparing for your conference? Go ahead: Ask your teacher what his purpose is in hosting the meeting. The answer (and the walk that should back up his talk), will help you develop the important parent-teacher relationship that is necessary for the best teaching and learning to occur.


Tweets from the Teachers’ Perspectives

“No one knows our students better than parents. They are our best resource!”


“Build relations and open lines of communication.”


“My best PT [parent-teacher] meetings were held at racetracks and pubs”


“Remember, it's about trust and perception of value. U will have to rebuild that which has been torn down b4 u”


“It also is a time for the first f2f [face-to-face] meeting and sets the stage for follow up conversations”


“Social media is a game-changer and something that should allow us to change when/how these types of meetings occur”


“PT [parent-teacher] conference went well when [the parent] looks @ u & genuinely says, ‘You truly know my child.’ Trust/respect gained 4 both P [parent]  & T [teacher]”


“For some parents it is the only contact they have with schools”


“They [conferences] are not long enough for the students that need the most help”


“Beauty of student-led [conferences] is the level of accountability on the students. Makes them take some more responsibility for their learning”


“Build conferences to include information that parents desire”


“For some of your parents, conference day might be the only day you see them all year. Make it count”


“I love to make a call [to parents] on the first day of school...blows them away!!!”


“[Be] careful not to have too many teachers in room so parent feels overmatched—[should] only [be the] necessary teammates to help provide resources/support”


“I believe Ps [parents] want to know u r helping their ‘gifts’ become lifelong learners & citizens while they are away all day. And [that they’re] having fun!”


During the #PTchat, participants shared exchanges about ways to help schools use technology to schedule conferences and provide structure for student-led conferences. Information and links about the research that fuels these efforts was also shared!

Resources, Research, and Tools To Use/Pass Along

 “Jerry Blumengarten’s ‘Parent-Teacher Conference Pages’ tinyurl.com/4rvh22y”


“Larry Ferlazzo’s ‘The Best Resources On Parent/Teacher Conferences’ bit.ly/rWL11T”


“I use a student-completed form that shows me, and parents, where [the student] believes he is performing at, and [what he thinks are his] strengths/weaknesses. Great tool!”


“My student-led conferences have a set script to assure all topics covered. [Each conference] includes samples of [the student’s] work”


“Research suggests that parent engagement in conferences diminishes over time due to lack of meaningful and relevant info”


“’Initial Research on Student Led Conferencing’  tinyurl.com/7pzp6b6”


“[Here is my] student-led [conference] form bit.ly/AcBUbx”


“’Sign Up Genius’ works well for events; [it’s] easy to use! bit.ly/5XGYZ9”


“’@Volunteerspot’ has a tool for PT [parent-teacher] conference signup http://www.volunteerspot.com”


“Building relationships improves attendance and content of conference”


“‘Google [Calendar has] Appointment Slots’ for your parent-teacher conferences bit.ly/zQZIVh”


“Another example of a Google Doc used for parent-teacher conferences here: bit.ly/z8UcGT”


“Wondering if we could tap into parents’ strength(s) and invite them back as guest(s), volunteer(s), etc.”?


“Parents want to know that you care about their child and that [she is] going to be happy learning in your class!”


“Leave the conference with a ‘next step plan’ that will provide opportunity for further contact between parents and teacher”


“[Use] the entire #PTchat [archive] on Maximizing Parent-Teacher Conferences at http://sfy.co/dk6”


“Interested in further PT [parent-teacher] perspectives? All #PTchats have been chronologically archived at: http://efacetoday.blogspot.com/p/eface-chats.html”


 Joe Mazza is the principal of Knapp Elementary School in suburban Philadelphia, PA. He is a doctoral learner at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is studying technology’s impact on home-school partnerships. Follow Mazza on Twitter @Joe_Mazza and participate in the weekly, hour-long Twitter gatherings he holds via #PTchat (Parent-Teacher Chat) on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST/6 p.m. PST. Mazza also blogs at eFACE Today, where he posts innovative family engagement ideas for schools.



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Pam Broviak of Illinois made headlines recently when she blogged about how officials at her daughter’s school forced the middle-schooler to show them comments on her Facebook page last fall, allegedly because another student was overheard making comments about the girl’s sexual activity.

Vote in our poll

Some things in this story are confusing, and it’s more than odd—even inappropriate, perhaps—that Borviak blogged about the incident on a public works blog she and others use in their role as public works employees (Broviak’s page on Quora lists her as a civil engineer for an Illinois municipality). She says she decided to post on the blog because her daughter’s social media privacy violation is exemplary of the current debate about government and employer intrusion into employees’ social media accounts.

Nonetheless, what’s really at issue here is student privacy vis-à-vis school officials’ self-described need to know. Broviak says her daughter has told her that other students at her Illinois middle school often feel forced into showing their social media pages to school principals and others, when questioned. 

What do you think? Take our poll and cast your vote: Do school officials have a right to look at a student’s private social media sites?

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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?