Smart Parenting in the Digital Age: Parents’ Role in Education

By: Rajiv Tewari, Founder, MediaNetwork.in, for Responsible Parenting (Updated Article) 

Based on excerpts from a free flowing dialogue with Graham Cooper, Capita SIMS, UK on how the power of technology can be harnessed for smart parenting in the digital age schooling.

Digital technology is everywhere and it’s now common to observe tiny tots using digital tools much before they go to school. The digital age children are growing up in an age where technology and connected devices are readily available. The iPhone, iPod touch and iPad figure in the top wish list of children of all ages. Kids as young as 2 years are being given plastic cell phones and tablets to play. One of the journalist friends pointed out that her 2 years old daughter is able to recognize the fake from the real remote control and she simply throws away the fake one.

Several studies suggest a link between usage of digital equipment with lack of the ability to concentrate, aggressive behaviour and even depression among the children. There was a time when the simple telephone was seen as a distraction for the children specially school going children and many a homes it was kept under lock and key to ensure that the kids do not waste too much time on the telephone. With the availability of mobile phones today’s children would find it hard to believe that such a time existed.

There is no way to stop children from using technology so it will be far more practical to use technology in a way that will help the child. Some of the best schools around the world have realized it and are using technology in a way that helps the parents, teachers and children to collaborate in a healthy way leaving enough time for outdoor activities, reading books and participating in cultural and sports activities.

Graham Cooper shared the story of his own teenage son who goes to a school in the neighbourhood which is on a few minutes walking distance. He noticed a 5% delay factor in his class attendance. On a closer scrutiny he discovered that his son was on time every time except for the after lunch class. The reason was that he would go to play as the lunch room was too crowded and by the time he returned, had his lunch and went for the class he would get late. Technology allows for detailed analysis of this kind to the parents. It allows for recording the child’s behavioural and academic scores and can indicate negative and positive trends which may need the immediate attention of the parents and the teachers.

It can help the parents in shaping the child and at the same time take preventive action if there are signs of a major change in the behavioural or academic patterns which could be the result of bullying in the class or some other problem which the child may never tell on his or her own. The parents can observe these trends on their mobiles if the school is technology enabled simply through the school portals.

Knowledge, fitness and application of mind are the three pillars of educating the child. Parents can easily monitor the progress on all the three aspects by simply using the mobile phone to connect and check the academic record, health records and events that reflect the application of mind. Modern technology helps in quick collection of information so knowledge gaps are easy to fill in. Health records and participation in sports or athletics can easily indicate the fitness factor. Application of the mind would involve encouraging the child to learn by doing and through case studies from life. Learning from the experiences of others will help the child in learning to apply his or her mind as the children minutely observe what the adults do and talk, specially the parents.

During our conversations one of the senior editors narrated two incidences which indicate why the parents need to be watchful of what their kids are doing. In a tragic incidence a Kolkata girl committed suicide due to bullying in the school. She was being asked to get money from home and she did not have the courage to tell this to her parents or teachers as it would have made her life difficult in the school. Parents had noticed that she was quiet and liked to be alone but they did not scrutinize it further. Such instances will never be recorded and therefore the parents need to be sensitized to such issues. If the kid is in the hostel then the parents have to talk to the kid and check out if all is well. Technology will only help in staying informed and connected as it is just a mere tool.

In another case, a student was kidnapped from a well-known school in Dehradun. He was tied on a chair. The kid realized that the rope was little loose but he waited till the kidnappers decided to take a nap. He simply loosened himself and ran out back to his home. The child must have learnt to keep his mind cool in a crisis.

The children need to be taught to handle failures and taught that behind every successful person there are a series of failures. The challenges he is facing is faced by millions around and that there is a way to use challenges and obstacles as flyovers to move ahead. Any deviation in the behavioural or academic part if noticed by the parents should not wait for the Parent Teacher Meeting day as generally these are crowded affairs. Instead the reasons can be sensed by looking at the records and by talking to the child. A record of the past incidences should alert the parents. If the child has fought someone in the past or bullied someone, the chances are that pattern may get formed. In a case at Gurgaon, the parents did not act on repeated complaints of a child bully and ultimately another child who could not take this bullying forever, shot him dead in the class room by stealing his father’s revolver. An extreme case indeed, but then instances like this are reported quite frequently from around the world. This incidence shows how not one but two parents failed in keeping a track of their children. A big tragedy could have been avoided through an early corrective action.

One of the leading newspapers from Bangalore recently reported that a large number of mothers go to work in the metros and that they have no time to visit schools regularly so the schools are increasingly providing for a portal based interface with their child’s id and password. School heads say the online system hasn’t replaced the traditional Parent Teacher Association but supplemented it. Parents, before walking into PTA meetings, are aware of what the child has been doing and can also give feedback online. This indicates that the schools are aware and are encouraging parents to be a part of the education process.

Parents of the digital age are busy all the time so a portal based interface is a boon for the smart parents who can keep a track of their kid by setting their own time and space by simply using the numerous digital devices available including the mobile phones. Technology can never replace the human touch and therefore the parents need to realize that they have to take out time for their kids. Over dependence on technology is neither desired nor recommended for the parents, teachers as well as the child.