The COVID-19 pandemic has upset the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans. Many who are parents are facing novel challenges as most educational institutes and child care centers around the country are set to remain closed for the foreseeable future.
The sad fact is that many people have lost their jobs. Parents who are lucky enough to still have a job are finding it hard to balance their obligations – being industrious while working from home and homeschooling. If you’re having trouble meeting employment and your child’s educational goals, expect these troubles to continue. As of September 2, 2020, 73% of the country’s major school districts have included virtual learning in their ‘back to school’ educational models. This move is set to affect almost 9 million students directly. If it’s any consolation, no parent is alone in this struggle to come to terms with the unique circumstances of suddenly having to blend work and parenthood.
- According to a recent survey by Microsoft, 54% of parents report that balancing household, parental, and professional responsibilities is extremely difficult.
- According to the survey, both male and female parents with kids under the age of eighteen are being affected equally while working from home. Millennial parents are suffering more than Generation X or Baby Boomer parents.
- Extra stress of juggling work and parenting is a major complaint amongst parents that has been triggered by the closure of schools, childcare centers and camps.
- 50% of parents feel that their professional productivity levels are being affected because of distractions at home.
- In another survey by American analytics and advisory group Gallup, 56% of parents (out of 1,200 parents that were surveyed) reported virtual learning to be problematic for their families. 16% stated virtual learning was “very difficult.”
Virtual or remote learning will continue to be difficult. Most parents would support resumption of full-time, in-person school. But a complete return to normal won’t be coming any time soon. As of 23rd November 2020 –
- 21% (2,774) of districts will only allow online learning.
- 52% (6,822) of districts will only allow schools to offer hybrid learning (a blend of a traditional classroom learning and remote learning).
- 70% of districts have amped up their investments in online learning technology.
This means most parents in the country will have to help their children with e-learning assignments almost every day. Parents will have to deal with inconveniences like staying quiet even when on conference calls or rescheduling meetings to deal with their children’s schoolwork for the foreseeable time being.
For the sake of their children’s education, parents must do their best to recreate classroom experiences at home. That means developing tighter schedules, making sure to constantly check in on children, and accepting high levels of accountability in making the internet a safer place.
Thankfully, most parents have already crossed the biggest hurdle in the past eight months – getting used to the virtual learning environments at home. Now parents must actively help their children while they’re accessing lessons, communicating with peers/teachers via online tools, and providing assistance whenever they need. Given that the ‘9 to 5’ workday is pretty much over for most and the pandemic is set have a lasting impact on how children learn, parents must take certain steps to optimize their child’s virtual learning experiences.
Optimizing Virtual Learning – What Parents Need to Do
Some effective steps that parents can take to optimize the ‘new normal’ for their children are:
- Setting Clear Expectations – While it’s important to be accessible to children at all times, without clear boundaries regarding their working lives parents won’t be able to be productive while working from home. So, it’s important to demand certain behaviors and productivity levels from children during work hours.
- Dealing with Younger Children – Parents of very young kids often have to pause work to entertain their children. These children need to learn self-sufficiency at an accelerated rate. Whether they draw with crayons or learn something from a book – they need to understand that their parent’s work hours aren’t automatic ‘fun’ hours for them, especially if they’re accessing the internet.
- Dealing with Older Children – It’s perfectly reasonable to delegate household responsibilities to older children. Be it trimming the plants or online grocery shopping – children who perform these activities will not only receive some helpful life skills, but they’ll also learn how to juggle their e-learning curriculums with household chores. Doing so will leave them with less time to purposelessly browse the internet.
- Shifting Work Hours – Single parents arguably face the biggest challenge when it comes to juggling work from home and parenting. Partnered parents can still share responsibilities. For single parents, rescheduling work hours to gain uninterrupted parenting hours is the best option.
The Safety of Children on the Internet – A Major Threat
The internet has always been a statistically unsafe place for children under the age of sixteen. Sadly, over the last eight months, even schools and classrooms which were once considered ‘safe havens’ for children, have become vulnerable spaces. Digital classrooms i.e., videoconferencing platforms have been constantly disturbed by ‘Zoombombings’ – uninvited people accessing private meetings to pester students. Many of these attacks included abusive content/behavior.
Children spending long hours on virtual platforms are susceptible to threats like online sexual exploitation, cyberbullying, grooming, etc. as many predators are on the lookout to take advantage of the pandemic.
Are the stewards of virtual classrooms well-equipped to keep children learning from home safe and secure? Hardly. A recent Microsoft study found that 61% of all the 7.7 million malware accidents that organizations across the country faced, affected the education sector – more than any other sector. Given that 90% of the educational institutes surveyed by Pearson Education expect virtual learning to play a key role in all educational processes for at least another year, that stat is even more horrifying for parents. The educational institutes across the country are clearly not prepared to deal with cybersecurity threats.
- 60% children aged fourteen to eighteen report getting bullied.
- Comparitech’s extensive study on cyberbullying revealed that 47.7% of parents with children aged six to ten report bullying.
- Another study revealed that 82% of children who break internet rules set by their parents go on to experience adverse content such as – unwelcome contact from strangers, violent/sexual content, etc.
- According to UNICEF, absence of face to face interaction with peers/partners heightens the risk of children sending/receiving sexualized messages and images. The organization also detailed the risks of children spending long hours of unstructured and unsupervised time on the internet. Exposure to harmful content and increased risks of cyberbullying were the organization’s two major concerns.
- 70% of kids come across sexual/violent content on the internet while researching for homework.
- 17% of children, aged eight to twelve, report receiving ‘uncomfortable’ online messages/images.
According to a recent PEW survey, parents are well aware of these risks but find themselves inadequately equipped to fight these unexpected challenges while juggling work. 71% of parents who responded to that PEW survey reported concerns about their child’s increased exposure to the internet. 31% reported being extremely concerned about their children not having the skills to guard themselves from threats like online harassment or cyberbullying.
Organizations like UNICEF are doing their best to inform governments about these risks. But governments and educational boards are way too busy or ill-prepared to address these problems. Much of the responsibility of preventing children from falling prey to cyberbullying and online abuse rests on the parents’ shoulders. Parents must accept the risks as real threats and prepare accordingly. They need to recognize that –
- Strangers and potential abusers can now gain access to their digital homes.
- As more kids access technology during the pandemic, the number of predators will also increase.
- Parents may have to engage in uncomfortable conversations to prevent something bad from happening.
How Can Parents Ensure their Children’s Safety?
All fruitful security measures involve the participation of everyone. This means bringing in children into the discussion and promoting trust and safety within the family. From setting clear protocols and expectations to using technological tools to prevent children from browsing unsafe websites – there’s a lot that parents need to do. Here’s a twelve-step guide –
I. Create preparatory exercises to ensure children meet their educational expectations daily.
II. Promote and monitor good behavior on the internet. Encourage them to access school-provided counseling services.
III. Make sure children’s devices have up-to-date antivirus software.
IV. Have open discourses with children on online safety.
V. Establish strict internet rules (how and when internet use is acceptable).
VI. Use parental controls such as MMGuardian which allows parents to be as hands on or off as is required for their child. Parents can read all of their child’s text messages or rely on AI-powered Priority Alerts to alert them to concerning activity such as predators, suicidal thoughts, bullying, etc. Parents can also take advantage of many other features such as app blocking, location, web filtering, and much more.
VII. Lookout for signs of distress.
VIII. Learn about school district policies regarding reporting cybersecurity issues; always have support helplines/emails in your contact lists.
IX. Use Virtual Private Networks to ensure children’s locations aren’t accessible to potential hackers/abusers.
X. Become familiar with Zoom or Google Meet and other videoconferencing tools’ security features.
XI. Limit the number of people your children are allowed to talk to on the internet. Also, limit the number of websites they can access while searching for course material.
XII. Have a clear idea of what internet skills your child has.
If parents keep these learning and online safety-centered principles in mind, it’ll be easier for them to create safer virtual learning environments. Over a billion children globally are victims of unexpected school closures. As they take classes and socialize on the internet, parents with access to apps like MMGuardian must leverage them to keep track of their children’s activities on the internet.
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