Like so many parents across the country, Skye McLain wrestled with the idea of virtual learning for her son, Jett, 7, as school resumed amidst the coronavirus pandemic this fall.
“The thought of him being required to be in front of a screen for multiple hours a day was very unnerving for me,” the Texas-based mom told TODAY Parents. “I gave homeschooling quite a bit of consideration, because I felt that it would give us more flexibility when it came to screen time and to lessen the chances of his exposure to the inappropriate content he could easily find or be shown on the Internet.”
While McLain ultimately decided for Jett to attend second grade virtually through the public school system, internet safety has remained a top priority in their at-home classroom.
“[Schools] are going to do everything in their own power to provide a safe place to conduct a classroom,” she said. “But at the end of the day, if Jett is in my house, it is my responsibility to make sure he is learning in a safe environment.”
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Some measures the McLain family took include opting to take a school-issued computer that came with safety measures installed versus using a personal computer, never allowing the computer to be moved from the desk, and maintaining open communication with their second grader.
“We have very open, very honest communication with Jett about what is and is not appropriate when it comes to using an electronic device” McLain shared.” He is well aware of apps that he is never allowed to use or watch, like TikTok or YouTube. He also knows that he can leave a situation where he feels uncomfortable at any time and that he can ask us or tell us anything about something he has seen online.”
Corporal Kenneth Hibbert Jr., an officer in the community policing unit of Prince George County Police Department in Maryland, suggests that parents should start by setting expectations for social learning with their child.
“I know parents are concerned about predators, [kids] clicking on the wrong things and seeing inappropriate things, or looking up test answers on their cell phones and it’s hard for parents who are working to constantly monitor what their child is doing,” Hibbert said. “Sit them down first and go over expectations saying this is school time and strictly paying attention to what's going on in school is what’s expected.”
Create digital boundaries
Hibbert recommends setting up web browsing restrictions based on age and checking in with the school district or teacher to confirm what the student does or does not need access to in accordance with the syllabus. If the school has issued the computer, ensure age-appropriate limitations have been engaged.
For added security, Hibbert recommends monitoring software like K9 Web Protection or Qustodio, which allows parents to track activity remotely.
“Look at the history for what they’re looking into online,” he shared. “Look at their cell phone, too. You’ve got to stay on top of that to know what’s going on.”
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Do physical and mental check-ins
Suspicious your child is still getting off track? Hibbert offered a helpful tip for parents.
“Watch their hand movements when you get close to their computer to see what they’re doing,” he shared. “Tell them — ‘don’t click anything, I want to see what you’re doing.’ If they have other windows open, see what they’re looking at.”
Hibbert acknowledged that virtual learning brings about new challenges for both students and parents, which can take a toll.
“Make sure your kids are doing okay mentally and physically,” he said. “You have your child that’s online for 5-6 hours out of the day. They have to give their eyes a rest. Get them outside to do something. Fresh air is always good, even for parents to just check in and ask — 'How was school today? I know you were at home, but what did you learn?' Kids will be honest and tell you, and they’ll open up to you more.”