As we discussed in part one of our Information Overload series, the sources of information that our students are bombarded with each day has increased exponentially over the past few years. The messages our students receive about life were once limited to cable television and the radio. Today, there are billions of images, opinions, videos, and comments at a student’s fingertips all day long. And as all of this has become more complex for students, it has also become more complex for the adults in their lives.
What is a school or parent to do? Take away the phone? Undo the 1:1 device initiative and go back to pencil and paper? And is it even that big of a deal anyway?
I don’t know that I have the answers to any of these questions, but I think reflecting on them is important. As parents, we want to try to keep our students safe and let them grow up to be adults who can function in the world. As schools, we essentially want the same thing—although when it comes to some of these “messages” students are exposed to, we have little control over the input sources. Adults who work in schools may even wonder if they should care with such an uphill battle in front of them.
How Exposed Are Our Students?
Schools should care. Because we have students under our supervision for a large part of the day, we must understand what we are allowing them access to. We should also be sensitive to the implications of this for parents. Parents send their students to school with a wide spectrum of beliefs and cultural norms. I believe most parents understand that schools are a diverse place and other students will have other beliefs. What they may not realize is that students could interact with other people of all ages and all backgrounds though social media—and this could be happening at school. Parents may not know the extent of the exposure students are vulnerable to.
As most any educator could tell you, these input sources and messages that they receive have a large impact on the social wellbeing of our students. Online bullying and messages about sexuality, suicide, exposure, political views, drugs, and alcohol are a few of the topics that students will “learn” about online from different sources and people.
Here is an admittedly brief list of some things that schools, teachers, and parents can do to help control the information that students are receiving:
- Be proactive by controlling the message: Research shows that students listen to their parents most when it comes to making major life decisions (even though they rarely admit it). Sometimes the reason that outside inputs have influence is that there isn’t a message there to begin with. Parents and teachers can make sure students have a “starting message” or core belief when they are younger, so exposure to outside opinions may have less impact.
- Provide technology limits: I mentioned earlier to “take the phones away.” For many parents, this isn’t a practical answer—and most schools that have tried policies to curb use have found it is an uphill (losing) battle. But, limits can be set. Parents can keep phones out of students’ bedrooms at night, limit data plans, or could turn off wireless Internet in the house in the evening. These are small steps, but any time that a student isn’t “plugged in” is a time when the messages they receive are limited and more controlled.
- Monitor device usage: Schools have started to use systems to keep an eye on what students do on their devices. Some of this is required with eRate Funding under the Children's Internet Protection Act (our school uses GoGuardian). This helps to keep students safe, but it isn’t always foolproof. This is one reason for providing school-owned devices for students—they can be monitored as opposed to a “bring your own device” model, where monitoring is much harder. There are options for monitoring software for parents, too: Norton offers one, as well as ContentWatch Net Nanny and Kaspersky Safe Kids, to name just a few.
- Ask questions: Engaging students in a conversation about what they believe and what they are learning about online is important. At times, students this age try to disengage in this conversation. If parents and teachers continue to keep lines of communication open, it can help to support them if something comes up.
- Offer a safe space: What should students do when they get in too deep? I feel this is really critical. Students must know who to turn to if things are getting out of hand online. It could be a chat room situation, someone bullying on social media, or inappropriate pictures being sent. In many situations, students make choices and then don’t have a good idea for how to fix them and don’t know where to turn. By parents and teachers having a trusting relationship with students, it is possible that they will know where to turn to if they need help.
It is a changing world, and our students are in uncharted territory when it comes to these issues. If parents, teachers, and schools can work together, they can create a safer environment for students to grow up in and limit the different messages they receive about life.
Did you miss part one in this series on defining the problem of information overload? Check it out now.>>
Be sure to subscribe to our blog for more great tips and tricks to help students navigate the modern classroom.