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In a rapidly evolving digital landscape, the need for children to navigate the digital world responsibly and effectively has never been more critical.

Richard Culatta, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), recently shared his insights and actionable strategies with students, families, and staff within our district so we can navigate the digital world– for good.

Richard Culatta is one of our own. He’s a BYU graduate who found footing in the world of tech education as a technology advisor at David O. McKay School of Education, where he restructured the teacher preparation program’s tech-based component.

He’s seen the impact of effective, tech-based practices on a large and small scale. As Director of Rose Education, teaching tech-based literacy to rural schools in Guatemala, and as former Director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, Culatta has leveraged big data and the practical, actionable teaching methods for good on macro and micro scales.

As the current CEO of ISTE, Culatta seeks to offer equitable solutions to empower all students to learn through optimized tech usage– both in schools and at home. 

Before his seminar, Culatta visited schools across the district to survey our Innovative Learning team and teachers’ work and speak to our students about building healthy digital habits to enrich lives. Culatta watched students code solutions to create assistive technologies for students with cerebral palsy– one of many creative coding projects our Innovative Learning team and teachers use to challenge students. He spoke at school assemblies and to our Kindness Clubs on developing digital well-being and online inclusivity, examining how easy, everyday habits can lead to balanced, informed, and engaged living for all. 

Lastly, Culatta spoke to parents and school staff in a personalized seminar on October 5th to conclude his visit, related to the teachings in his book, “Digital for Good: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Digital World.” (All attendees received a free copy. Thank you!)

Speaking from the viewpoint of a director of multiple, research-based, digital-based learning initiatives– and as father of four children– Culatta led a discussion about five competencies for digital well-being: balanced, informed, engaged, inclusive, and alert. 

As a parent, Culatta recognized the intrinsic fear that the word “technology” has garnered in the post-COVID world. It’s easy for some to feel a desire to remove their child from technology usage altogether. The reality, Culatta remarks, is that our students will inevitably require the ability to leverage technology. All jobs require digital literacy, and shifting their time to engage with technology only pushes the time to learn these skills further down the road.

As parents, we can help our children learn these complex skills in small and measured ways starting today. 

“You’d never hand the keys to a Ferrari over to a sixteen-year-old,” Culatta says, “without building the skills to drive safely. Digital well-being is the same way. It’s a complex skill.”

Building complex skills, it turns out, requires more than a single list of “don’t do’s” before hitting the road. There’s a lot more to driving– and digital well-being– than a list of “don’t do’s.” Kids need to see what safe driving looks like from an expert. They need practice behind the wheel on charted courses. They need a mentor to correct the skills required to take them where they want to go. It requires patience.

Here is where Culatta steps in. With actionable, data-driven, family-tested practices, Culatta offers a way for parents to scale digital usage that factors in accountability and empowerment. While we can’t cover all the topics covered in his seminar, we can share some significant practices that parents can use today.

Start with a conversation on family culture and tech expectations, Culatta says. Let your kids share what they think healthy and empowering tech usage looks like. Create a “Device use Agreement” for tech usage from your discussions. This agreement is a way to positively frame healthy habits and practices you can discuss as a family.

The agreement, Culatta comments, is no different from a phone bill. “We’re expected to pay for your phone under an agreement, and you use your phone according to certain expectations, too.” 

The contract as a family, but Culatta shared his family’s agreement. Here it is, for example:

When should you use your device?

  • You need to finish your jobs before using your phone.
  • At mealtimes, your phone takes a rest in another room.
  • When using your phone, your door stays open.

What should you do with your device?

  • Help us capture family memories.
  • Use your phone to help you learn new things.
  • Have fun (read, play fun games, listen to good music).

Who should you interact with?

  • Stay in touch with your friends, family, and teachers.
  • Let Mom or Dad know before you start a conversation with someone not part of our family.
  • Ask mom or dad before sending videos or pictures to anyone.

What happens when something goes wrong?

  • When you do something with your device that isn’t in line with this agreement, let us know, and we’ll help figure out how to make it right.

The Device Use Agreement is a foundation for families to have conversations and norms. You might notice that the final section says, “What happens when something goes wrong,” rather than “What happens if something goes wrong.” It’s because these skills take practice. To return to the car analogy, you can’t expect your child to become a perfect driver overnight– it takes approach.

The agreement exists to help scale device usage; if they prove they can use their devices, you gradually increase autonomy. If they stumble, you have another conversation about how they can make it right, and you scale usage back for a period. These agreements are training wheels; when your kid falls and hurts themself, they need to know why and what they can do to fix the problem– and if they fall again, they might need a little more help until they’re ready.

Parents should also tailor their agreements to each child’s needs and age. Culatta pointed out that his near-graduated teenager doesn’t require checking in before sending pictures anymore, as they’ve practiced that skill over the years. Culatta reminded attendees that your list will vary according to their family’s culture; if they worry that their child is making private accounts on social media, for example, then include that in your agreement.

Another expectation is that parents need to model positive behaviors. All family members are involved in the agreement– if you expect your child to put their phone away at dinner, you need to put it away, too. 

As for a final point for safety, Culatta reviews his family’s expectations for when children can use their phones: in open rooms and before bedtime. “Kids are under a false assumption that their phone is a private space, but it’s not,” Culatta says. “We pay for their phone usage. I’m not surveilling my children, but if I can walk by and see a text or picture that seems off-putting, I can have a conversation about it.” 

Culatta’s family also charges their phones in a separate room overnight, picking them up in the morning. According to extensive research, nearly all cases requiring police intervention related to cell usage shared two common antecedents: phone usage behind closed doors after dark. Building a family culture that accounts for these antecedents allows your family to free themselves of any major stumbles that might occur otherwise.

For families with youth starting with their first phone, Culatta recommends starting small. Give them an old phone or one with limited access– you don’t need a data plan, just something they can use with Wifi. You can scale usage up every step of the way, eventually paying for more access as they earn it. As for older youth, Culatta assures parents that it isn’t too late. You should still have these conversations and rules– but try not to corner or single them out. If you can model what good behavior looks like, they’re far more likely to follow your lead.

Culatta’s tour was a phenomenal visit. His practical, data-driven approach, rooted in his own family experiences, has highlighted the need for collaboration between parents and children in setting technology guidelines. Culatta’s wisdom reminds us that teaching digital well-being is a journey, not a destination, and his insights serve as a valuable roadmap for families striving to navigate the digital world with confidence and responsibility.

Again, we thank all attendees for joining our seminar. Readers can expect a recording of his seminar with English and Spanish captions sometime this month. Please keep an eye out for future workshops and lectures, as we’ll host more guest speakers on our quest to use Digital for Good.

Spencer Tuinei
  • Communication Specialist
  • Spencer Tuinei
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