By Lynette Owens

Every January 1, I make a list of personal goals for the coming year. Year after year, 80% of the items on each year’s list are the same.  Meaning: I’m pretty bad about keeping New Year’s resolutions.

But unlike the calendar year, the start of a new school year is an entirely different experience for my family.  Whether by necessity or the search for sanity, our summer habits end and new habits begin.  And stay.  It’s a far more successful endeavor on September 1 then on January 1.

The start of a new school year is a great time to take advantage of this motivation and add a new resolution to your family’s list: Get into digital shape.

With no homework or school activities on their schedules, kids sometimes filled this time with screen time over the summer – watching t.v. or movies, playing iPad apps or video games, etc.  In our house, we did our best to balance it with lots of swimming and other sports as well as with reading good old fashioned books.  But my kids definitely have more time with screens in the summer than other times of year.  

If this sounds like your family, here are 3 things you can do to get into digital shape this school year: 

Change your digital diet.

1. Balance fun with learning.

If you’re like my family, the time we spent with digital devices was primarily for fun this summer.  But with the new school year, it may be better to turn that screen time into time that they can both have fun and learn something.  Here are some great resources to help you decide how to improve your kids’ media diet:

2. Don’t completely eliminate social networks.

Social networks are a great way for your older kids to stay connected – to relatives, classmates, teachers and schools, sports teams, or other groups they interact with during the school year.   Many school groups have Facebook pages or Twitter accounts to keep group members up-to-date on meetings, practices, events, etc.  For this reason, don’t be quick to completely ban them from your teens’ lives.

If you have a 13-year old that is getting onto social networks for the first time, and you want to make sure they (and you) ease into it and learn to use it properly, consider a social network monitoring service such as Trend Micro’s Online Guardian.  Like training wheels on a bike or a learner’s permit for driving a car, it’s a great way to teach them the rules of the social networking roads until you feel they are ready to handle it on their own.

3. Be smart with smart phones.

Texting is another thing on your kids’ digital diet that may need to change during the school year.  While they may have done tons of it over the summer break, it’s best to keep it to a minimum when they’re at school, doing schoolwork, and never during class time.

Exercise good digital habits.

1. Make sure schoolwork is the priority.

It is unrealistic to completely eliminate any time with a screen during the school year.  Kids, especially as they get older, are required to get assignments, do research, and actually do their homework online.  So instead of saying “no screen time until homework is done”, set rules and places in your home which help support them to make schoolwork a priority.

Ideally, their time with the Internet for schoolwork is done in a common area of the house where you can check in once in a while, but if not, you might consider software that can limit distractions and filter the types of websites they can access while they are doing homework.  This type of filtering can typically be done with most of the major security software products (including Trend Micro Titanium).

2. Reward good behaviors.

Once homework is done, you can reward the accomplishment by allowing them to have some fun on digital devices.  But make sure screen-time is limited – any time of year.  The Center on Media and Child Health has great recommendations on time limits and how to manage them with kids

Continue the conversation about safe and responsible technology use.

This is a bigger, on-going undertaking, but it’s important to help kids develop and practice good digital habits all year round and to start this at as young an age as possible.  It’s a conversation about being a good digital citizen.  This includes helping them build and practice digital skills around 

  • their safety and privacy
  • the security of their online information
  • ethical and legal issues
  • proper behavior in online communities

Making a commitment to get you and your kids into digital shape is a great way to start the new school year.  But unlike the new year’s resolutions we make and perhaps never keep, this is one that should be made now and kept for as long as we possibly can.

Below are some great resources on more specific topics, such as digital devices or applications, to get you started: 

Internet Safety for Kids and Families Trend Micro

Common Sense Media – resources on Digital Citizenship – General Online Safety Tips – BEaPRO resources on Digital Citizenship

Lynette Owens is Director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families (ISKF) program.  After many years in marketing roles and serving for 6 years as Associate VP of corporate marketing for Trend Micro, Lynette founded the ISKF program to help deliver on the company’s vision of making a world safe for the exchange of digital information.

As a pro-technology parent and Internet safety advocate, Lynette spends most of her time raising awareness and educating the public about the safe and responsible use of the Internet, recruiting fellow employee volunteers to get involved around the world, or volunteering her own time in her community.  For more on Lynette see: /internet-safety/our-bloggers/

Or follow Lynette on Twitter @lynettetowens

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens is Vice President of Global Consumer Education & Marketing at Trend Micro and Founder of the Internet Safety for Kids and Families program. With 25+ years in the tech industry, Lynette speaks and blogs regularly on how to help kids become great digital citizens. She works with communities and 1:1 school districts across the U.S. and around the world to support online safety, digital and media literacy and digital citizenship education. She is a board member of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, an advisory committee member of the Digital Wellness Lab, and serves on the advisory boards of INHOPE and U.S. Safer Internet Day.

Follow her on Twitter @lynettetowens.