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Tuning Out! Keeping Kids Focused on Technology (aka the blog post your kid doesn’t want you to read)

The internet is a wonderful tool for learning that students today are incredibly lucky to have. But in addition to the vast amounts of knowledge it can share, there are vast amounts of distractions and content that is far too inappropriate for certain age groups.

YouTube is by far one of the most popular sites on the internet with almost 5 billion of its videos being view everyday and 300 hours of video being uploaded every single minute! With a never-ending supply of free entertainment just a click away its no surprise that this site is constantly mentioned by parents when they discuss the most distracting sites on the internet. But luckily, there are ways to make this site less of a worry and time-suck. Here are some ideas to help you support the educational use of computers in your home.

Location, Location, Location

BEFORE you resort to using blocking programs, you may want to consider management techniques that use the environment. The most effective strategies for managing a childs access to the internet involve proxmity and location, both in and out of the classroom. A student using the internet in their room away from adult oversight will be more more likely to be off-task watching Fortnight videos. Try having your students do their work in an open area within your “parental orbit” such as the dinner table or kitchen counter. Make sure their screen isn’t facing away from you so that you can easily glance over and see what they are doing at any given moment. If they know this, they’ll be more likely to stay on task. Many newer Smart TV’s have the ability to “mirror” with a Chromebook, meaning they can display what is on the screen of the device. Connecting your students laptop to the family TV will boradcast what they are doing and make it less likely they will go watch cat videos. Finally, make sure they don’t take their device into their room with them at night. If the device is in their room, there is no guarentee that they won’t be using it at all hours.

Also, if your student is on a Chromebook and uses tabs to hide what they are doing, you can install this extension on their machine to stop that nonsense.

Use YouTube’s Restrictive Mode

YouTube does have its own (not 100% accurate) Restrictive filter which will block the vast majority of inappropriate content. Find it by clicking settings on the left-side of the screen, then scroll to the bottom and make sure the “On” button has been clicked. You can also lock this feature by clicking on “Lock Restricted Mode on this browser”

Other “Safety” Tools

In additon to “Restrictive Mode” there are a lot of other tools and apporached you can use to sanitize content on YouTube that you can access for free. Here are some of the best ones;

  • Remove Recommendations Extension: Available for Chrome and Firefox. This extension removed the “Recommended Videos” that pop up after a video plays. This one has been a god-send to elementary schools and many times the recommendations have no correlation to the preceding video played by the teacher.

  • AdGuard AdBlocker: This extension keeps ads for things like toys, sugary ceral, or other commercials for items marketed towards kids from popping up.

Still Not Enough? Curate the Content

YouTube does allow you to personally curate the content your student sees, allowing you to block certain video tags (like “gaming”) while allow others (like “science”) that might have educational value. You can also go as far as only allowing playlists, channels, or specific videos you’ve approved. Directions on how to use this and other features are available for you to review here.

YouTube isn’t the only game in town

While YouTube is far and away the most popular video-hosting service on the web, there are a lot more that you should be aware of. Vimeo is also popular, and video game streaming sites like Microsoft’s Mixer and Twitch.tv are ones your student may also visit. A lot of video is also shared via social media apps such as Instagram and Snapchat. Your first task should always be figuring out what sites your student uses to consume media, otherwise just “blocking YouTube” isn’t going to do much to remove distractions or objectionable content.

Check with your ISP

Many ISP’s (internet service provider) have filtering and monitoring features that allow you to curtail certain aspects of web access. Xfinity/Comcast, for example, has a large number of options available to its users. By logging into the admin portal, you have many different options for securing your home network as well as the devices connected to it. Tools like Bedtime Mode block access for specific devices or users during specific hours, preventing them from staying up late on their devices. You can pause or “freeze” access temporarily. There is also a YouTube restrict mode which may be useful! Not an Xfinity user? Centurylink has similar features as well. Check with you ISP for more information.

Third Party Monitoring and Blocking

If you’re ISP doesn’t allow the filtering and control you want, there are other options such as Net Nanny. This easy-to-use software give you a great degree of control and comes with helpful features outside of just blocking. It can filter innapropriote content without blocking access to the entire site, since YouTube is sometimes used as an instructional tool by students and their teachers. It can also

Chrome Extension - Strict Workflow

If your student is using a Chromebook, there is a helpful little extension called Strict Workflow that you may want to consider installing on their computer. When active, this extension blocks or allows only sites designated by you. However, it’s designed to be more than just a filter. The extension can be set to allow for breaks within a work period. It is most effective when used in conjunction with the Pomedoro Technique, a work-optimization method that stresses allowing for small breaks within longer work period to enhance productivity. You can set Strict Workflow to allow five minute breaks where the filter will allow them to watch YouTube before shutting them out for another 25 minutes for more focused work. This app is great because it can be used as a self-regulating mechanism, freeing you of responsibilities while training your student to be an effective self-regulator.

However, given all these ideas, the most effective way to monitor a student and keep them on task is for them to monitor themselves!

Some things to consider;

  • No piece of software is 100% effective or will have all the features you want.

  • There are many, many other video-hosting sites aside from YouTube.

  • Your students will eventually have to monitor their own work habits when they enter college and their career. How can you help them to build self-management skills starting now?

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