As we continue to navigate life in a pandemic and the COVID-19 Delta variant winds its way through communities, we’re left to wonder how the academic year will truly take shape.  Many students have returned to classrooms only to see pediatric cases of COVID-19 rise and some kids heading back to quarantine.  It seems the delicate balance between supporting the academic, social and emotional wellness of students through in-person instruction and keeping them safe through masks and quarantining protocols will be a hard one to strike.

School may take on different forms throughout the year amidst so much uncertainty.  Whether small groups of students need to quarantine for two weeks or an entire district temporarily decides to go virtual, you should prepare for the possibility of your children going back to learning at home, in front of a screen and for the pendulum to swing the other way days, weeks or months later.  This fluctuation will mean screen time for your kids may shift dramatically, too.

If your kids started off going to school in person, and that gets interrupted by the need to go remote, take a deep breath and remember: you’ve done this before and you can do it again. Here are some concrete steps you can take now, no matter what shape school takes this year:

Be ready to set up your home (again).

Whether you had to do it last school year or not, remote school is challenging. Make sure your children have what they need to be successful if your home needs to turn into a classroom for some time. Keep a space where they can focus without interruption. Adequate workspace, lighting, seating, and quiet (using headphones if needed) will help. If you’re also working from home, think about what you need to do now so everyone can be successful (and stay sane!).  Check out our tips on setting things up when everyone is home.

Reset the rules.

Your screen time rules for the summer may have changed once school started, but if your kids end up back in virtual school, the rules may have to change again. Since remote school means more screen time in general, you’ll need to shift the way you think about it. Consider the 24 hours in each day and talk to your kids about how many of those hours they spend doing things that support them physically (like sleep and eat), as learners (such as school and homework), and to maintain good relationships with family and friends. As long as they are spending enough time doing these things, any remaining time in the day could be spent on devices for fun and relaxation. See our tips on managing screen time here.

Help keep it positive.

As kids toggle between school and personal screen time, it’s important to remind them to continue to treat others with respect and kindness. If someone is unkind to them, you can help them by being available and checking in with them regularly so they know they can come to you for support. Making it a constant part of family conversation will give you the opportunity to know early if they have witnessed or experienced bullying or hate of any kind online. Read these five tips on how to handle bullying, with great advice from the Cyberbullying Research Center.

Keep it safe and secure for everyone.

With the shift to online remote learning, cybercriminals have seen this as an opportunity to exploit the education system. In a remote setting, school infrastructure extends into your household, with children using a myriad of devices from iPads to parents’ phones and laptops, to laptops owned by the school district. Schools also rely heavily on services such as Google for Education (with services like Google Docs and school Gmail) with kids frequently exchanging, searching, and posting information through it. Cybercriminals know about this increased school dependency on the internet and have been orchestrating ransomware attacks or scams to fool both teachers and students. When your child shares the same internet connection for school as you do for work or personal reasons, make sure they know to only click on emails that they know are from their teacher or school and the device that they are using has security software installed.

Teach and practice media literacy skills.

It can be difficult these days to discern who and what we can trust online. Teaching our children digital and media literacy skills – the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of communication – can help them determine how they should treat the information they see online. Practicing good media literacy skills means pausing before reacting or replying and asking questions.  A Parents’ Guide to Media Literacy developed in partnership with the National Association for Media Literacy Education is a good way to practice this critical life skill with your kids.

Use tech tools.

With or without a pandemic, it’s always important to use any tools that can help you keep your children’s online time safe and positive. Many of their favorite games and apps have settings that can protect their privacy and keep their information secure. Their devices have settings so you can limit screen time or the types of apps or sites they can access. In fact, here at Trend Micro, we recently developed and launched a free tool called Trend Micro Family to do exactly this, and there are many other options inside your security software, routers, or as part of your ISP services to help you. Take advantage of these. But don’t let technology do all the work – these tools are very helpful but should always be coupled with guidance from parents and caregivers.

Be a role model. 

The last year and a half have tested our patience but also strengthened our resilience. If your kids have to move to remote school after a good in-person start to the year, try to stay positive and set a good example. With the increased screen time that remote schooling requires, set rules not just for them but for yourself too. Take breaks from the screens. Set up time to do something fun together and keep the lines of communication open with them.

We continue to live through much uncertainty, but kids need routine and predictability to succeed.  Think now about what you would do if they were sent back home, and help prepare your kids by talking through what you will all need to do if that happens.

With the impending approval of a vaccine for children ages 5-11, the chances of keeping kids in school rather than at home are higher now than they were last year. In the meantime, let’s all be prepared for our homes to become classrooms again, but never lose hope that it will not materialize.

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.