When parents want to opt their children out of ed tech


I had a conversation with a parent a few weeks back during which she said something like this:

My husband and I are worried about how prevalent screens are in our children’s lives. We are striving to maintain some balance between screen time and other time for our kids. However, our high school’s 1:1 laptop initiative has made it much harder for us to do this with our son since he is now expected to bring the computer home and use it during the evenings and weekends.

Even the most ardent technology advocates usually recognize that others may have different beliefs and norms when it comes to children and computers. I found myself empathizing with this mother as she found herself in direct competition with an initiative from the school system that was intended to empower her child but instead was undermining her parenting.

Parents often have opt-out rights for some sensitive course or school library materials (e.g., movies, videos, books or other readings, sex education classes) but they don’t typically have opt-out rights for instructional methods or curricula. Should parents have the right to refuse or limit a 1:1 initiative – or other educational technology usage – for their children? If so, in practical terms how would that work (e.g., would schools be required to provide analog assignments and/or homework)? What do you think?

Image credit: karen’s denial, zen sutherland

42 Responses to “When parents want to opt their children out of ed tech”

  1. We’ve had the same issue come up in our school, which is a high school with a 1:1 iPad program. We provide a device for each student but do let parents opt out of having the device go home. This does become a bit of a challenge as some students drop off and pick their iPads each day. We need to have carts available for charging and a staff member assigned to manage and assist with that. We also need to keep detailed records of which students can and can’t take them home in case of missing devices. Although it’s a lot of work I do think its important to give parents this choice.

  2. Let me first say, this is my opinion…and NOT one from my association. I appreciate the parent’s concern, but if the technology is truly just embraced and utilized as a tool for learning across the curriculum, is this really an “opt out” issue?? Are they “opting out” of ed tech or learning??

    Again, I totally agree on the “opt out” options around sensitive content, etc., but would we support “opt out” if the desire is not to use a textbook in general…perhaps I want my child to be more active than I believe sitting and reading requires?? It seems parents have plenty of ways to monitor their child’s recreational use of screen time without expecting the school to expend its limited resources to make such an accommodation without evidence of a medical/special needs assessment. There are also communities where parents are fearful of devices coming home because of theft, and again, to me, that’s a different set of issues that requires creative problem solving and options.

  3. What a great topic!

    It’s so easy to make arguments from both sides of the debate, but at the end of the day, opting out of technology in school is a losing battle. It’s only becoming cheaper and easier to use technology as an aid to learning.

    Perhaps parents should consider reducing screen time outside of school in order to match the balance?

    • I think that’s the point this parent is making, Brent. She recognizes that there’s not much that she can do to minimize the time her son spends on a screen at school but now she can’t do that at home either because of all of the digital schoolwork that follows him home.

  4. I agree with Ann. My first thought was isn’t that similar, to some degree, as saying by kid can’t be in a classroom with a chalkboard, or I don’t want my child to have to carry home any textbooks?
    And yet, balance is a worthy goal. I think it’s the drum-of-the-year to beat; I hear a lot of us (parents, teachers) admitting we have a hard time limiting screen time for ourselves and our kids.
    Keeps me thinking of our turn-off-the-TV campaigns where I tried to get students to see that its WHAT YOU’RE MISSING that is the purpose of limitation.

  5. Hmm, I wonder if our grandparents wanted to opt out of text books coming home? I appreciate her wanting to limit kids wasting their time, but if they are learning, who cares comes from a book or engaged with technology?

  6. Back when I was teaching, my school district was one of the first to have 1:1. Ironically, the tech-savvy parents were the ones who opted out of having their children take home the devices. They already had computers at home for their children, with parental controls and complete control over the machines. They wanted their children to use their machines. Plus, paremts were required to pay for insurance. Students has jump drives, (this was before the cloud was so easily assessed) Also, the school’s devices were so filtered and slow, the tech savvy parents and students had better machines at home.

  7. I, too, empathize with parents on this issue. My empathy in this area started when a mom who was at a loss after her son’s middle school sent an iPad home with him as part of a 1:1 initiative emailed me to ask for resources. I shared her email and my response in a blog post last year. The post is the most visited on my blog by far, and the comments that resulted have some wonderful tips in them.


    It’s important to note that the answer to concerns like this doesn’t have to be banning school tech at home. I think one of the keys in this area is to let parents know they can still set limits. They can put supports in place to help their kids make wise use of their study time with technology. Schools who are sending home devices need to provide education and resources for parents as they are swept along with us through this learning paradigm shift.

    • I agree with Sandy on the issue of supporting parents in setting limits at home. I think that there’s a lot of misunderstanding about sending them home equaling requiring them to be accessible at all times. Letting parents know that while it’s under their roofs, they manage the situation, which includes bed time, amount of homework time, where the device is used, etc., gives them back a lot of control. It seems like many parents that I’ve talked to feel that when the school pushes the device out, the parents lose the ability to manage the situation.

      • Jeff,
        Remember that not everyone is the traditional middle-class suburban household. We have not only “latch key kids” but students living in homeless shelters, or out of cars or RVs. It would be nice to be in a world where the worst problems we worried about are if our students have too much access to luxuries.

    • Thanks for sharing your post, Sandy. That’s a helpful resource…

  8. Scott,
    I think the underlying issue is what kids are required to do outside of school. I truly believe school work outside the school day should be limited – especially prior to high school. I think we in education need to look at what we are asking/expecting kids to do for ‘homework.’ Kids need to be encouraged to go outside, to get some exercise, to “play” in unstructured types of activities, to spend time with families, to read for their own enjoyment, play musical instruments, take art classes, dance, etc. The time they spend in school – with or without a screen in front of them – is sufficient IMHO.

    • Yes, yes, yes, Sue! I could not agree more. This is related to what I was going to post so I will say it here. I greatly sympathize with the parent. However, the reality of most jobs – and for students, school is their place of work – is that people are looking at screens for the majority of their work. So, when people make efforts to unplug and take a break from technology it is done at home, in the evenings and weekends. The view of the balanced parent may have to change from school being the place that provides a break from technology to the home filling that role. Fascinating issue, Scott. Thanks for making me think!

    • Hi Sue,

      I am hearing your position quite often as it applies to homework in general. I am not sure I agree with it.

      I know my middle school students spend a whole lot less time doing school work out of school than I did growing up. My concern is that the pendulum has completely swung to the other side and asking a student to do anything outside of school is asking too much.

      I think part of the issue is that today we expect our kids to do EVERYTHING in your list of activities. I asked a GT student to come in after school to work on a GT project and she began to provide me with a whole list of things she HAD to do that prevented her from doing her project.

      I do not think it is asking too much for our students to do an hour or so of homework each night. That leaves plenty of time to do OTHER things. Maybe not EVERYTHING but certainly OTHER things.

      I see this issue as a priority issue and unfortunately, school and learning is getting lower and lower on the priority list. I don’t want my child glued to the screen either but that doesn’t mean we don’t do homework, it means we don’t watch as much TV, text as much, play video games, and watch movies. We only have over the air TV and we don’t stream movies at all or rent very often. There are ways to limit screen time without impacting school and learning.

      I do respect the parents right to manage their household, though I think their reasoning a strawman argument. So my statement to them and my question to them would be, “This is the future of all learning, how are you going to deal with it to support your student?” Of course I would put it in more politically correct words.

  9. This raises a lot questions for me — and I’ve sat in exactly this meeting myself, more than once. And tables were pounded (not by me — or, at least, not until after the parents left). And often those meetings are followed immediately by the parent who is up in arms about how we’re not using these expensive devices to their fullest potential. Oy.

    I don’t pretend to have the right answers, but I would hope that at least some of these questions might point towards productive conversations with the family and the student — and the teachers and the school:

    – The parent argument, I suspect, probably triggers all of our internal horsefeathers detectors. (It does mine!) Question is, is the ed tech triggering the parents’ or students’ horsefeathers detectors? As we know, it’s far too easy to transfer paper busywork into PC busywork. Are there legitimate concerns about the learning that’s happening that are being lost in our knee-jerk response to this? (cf. Alfie Kohn et al…)

    – What’s the parent vision of how the child is using the computer at school? Does it align with reality? (I’ve talked to parents that assumed that 1:1 meant all screens, all the time.) What’s the school’s vision of how the child is using the computer at home — and does _that_ align with reality? (If that “45 minutes” of homework takes 3 hours… all sorts of credibility is being lost.) It turns out that it’s shockingly hard to have an honest conversation about this, but if both the parents and the school are describing what they _think_ is happening to someone who can observe that it is demonstrably _not_ happening… the going gets tough. It would be keen to find a way to pool information and find a joint path forward, with goodwill for all.

    – How much of this is the sense that school being different from “when I was a kid” means that it’s not really “rigorous” (for some nebulous definition of that term) and therefore not adequately preparing the child for “success” (also nebulously defined) in the twenty-first century? Is this a communication problem, working to help parents understand different approaches to education than those with which they may already be familiar?

    – Can we talk about how scary it is to have a child trying to develop their own independent identify from you as a parent, and to have that process both accelerated and hidden from you by communications devices issued by the school? Obviously, there are gradations of this concern from elementary through middle (oh. my. God.) to high school (and beyond). But it’s hard for parents to let go of their belief that they can directly direct their child to be the person that they dream of them being. And if the school looks like it’s aiding and abetting…

    – I come from a private school background, so I can’t speak with real knowledge about the dynamics of this interaction in public schools… but I know that private schools are essentially “opt-in” communities, which make it much harder for families to opt-out of “mission critical” initiatives (without opting out of the school entirely). Of course, this is counter-balanced by the authority of the checkbook (and in one of these meetings, the parents did withdraw their child from the school — which felt awful). I would imagine that public schools necessarily serve a broader community and have a greater political need to find a middle way, rather than to chart a path to the higher road (unless led by the silver-tongued).

  10. I feel as if it is opting out of learning on many levels. One of the many goals of a 1:1 program is to make learning available to children at any time and any where. Parents can set limits within their home, it is called parenting. It is not the school’s job to say what is and isn’t appropriate within the home, but making the school babysit the technology at night because they don’t want to monitor usage and set limits enables the parents to pass the buck. If parents and children don’t learn balance now, how will students learn balance when they are one their own in college?

    At the end of the day, most parents have a choice, it is a different school. As educators, one of our many responsibilities is to teach students and prepare them for the future. If a parent does not agree with that mission, perhaps they need to return to school themselves.

    • Dana, you say that ‘parents can set limits within their home, it is called parenting.’ But what happens when, like with this parent, parenting preferences for limited to no tech usage at home run up against school-mandated computer-facilitated homework? Isn’t the school now making it harder for this mother (as she notes) to set limits the way she wants?

      • I am not sure it is very different than saying “we only use slate at our home.” What if the parent said they don’t agree with the use paper and pencils in their home? OK, then go find a school that aligns with your values, but I think it will be a tough journey, and it is getting tougher every day for good reason. Learning is happening online. How many industries can say that technology has not impacted the way they do business? Should schools stay frozen in time while the rest of the world moves forward? Technology is a part of school and a can play a huge role in the learning process when used correctly. If parents do not agree with using technology to do so, they are hurting their child’s chances and opportunities to learn.

        Perhaps the real learning of the issue is in the disconnect between parents and schools. We, as educators, have an opportunity to teach parents and help them feel empowered. But we seem to be so busy teaching ourselves how to use the tools, and finding new ways to enhance learning within our classrooms, that we are leaving parents behind in a new digital divide. Parents need to see the value of what is happening online and feel empowered to help their children make healthy choices.

  11. Dear Scott and contributors,
    Thanks for the thought provoking post and ensuing discussion. I see two aspects here – the technology skills and the outcomes of homework. If students have successfully mastered the skills required using technology (whether it be research, contributing to a collaborative document or creating another digital artifac etct) it shouldn’t matter if the task is completed using tech or not.
    What learning outcome is the task designed to achieve? Is it practise for independent research? Is it collecting data that can only be done at home (eg. Interviewing a family member or friend)? It shouldn’t matter how these tasks are completed – with or without technology- as long as the learning intentions are met.
    Just remember the technology is the tool, not the learning outcome in itself.

  12. Related: we give parents the option of allowing laptops home. Those that allow are liable for loss and damage. Those that don’t must provide their own equipment. Allows parents to choose how much liability they’re willing to accept.

  13. It would seem that a conversation might clear up this situation. Parents usually limit screen time for reasons other than school work. They may actually be concerned about balance with other activities or that children are not engrossed in too much entertainment.

    I’d ask Mom and Dad what the objective of limiting screen time really is – the school’s program and parent’s wishes may actually not be incompatible.

    In other cases – where value systems actually reject technology – alternatives are needed.

    • I agree it needs to be discussed why “Screens” are considered by default something to be avoided by this parent.

      “I don’t want them to just Google everything” or “I don’t want them doing busywork point and click multichoice quizzes” is one thing.

      “I don’t want them to make videos instead of write yet another essay” is something else.

      Suspect the parent, like many teachers sees the tool not the task.

  14. I am very interested in these responses…

    What if it is not a choice, but an economic fact or availability issue where parents cannot afford or even have access to HS internet… This holds particularly true in rural areas where even if HS is available, it is costly!

  15. I spent a fair amount of time researching this question for an Edutopia article a few months ago, and what really resonated was the idea that not all screen time is created equally. Unfortunately, I had to edit this portion out of the original, (here’s the long version – http://brholland.wordpress.com/2013/09/28/the-balancing-act-of-screen-time-long-version/) but I think Suzy Brooks made an excellent point that may help your parent.

    “90 minutes of Candy Crush is very different than 90 minutes of online research or writing. 90 minutes of watching MTV is very different from watching the History Channel for 90 minutes… Our screens can be valuable learning sources and can provide opportunities to reach out and become involved as citizens in the community.”

    If the screen is being used appropriately and in meaningful or empowering ways, then is it necessarily bad?

    Patrick Larkin often talks about how we need to focus on the behavior and not the technology. Maybe it’s not the screen that is the issue but what’s being done with it?

  16. I think it takes a certain kind of privilege to opt out of 1 to 1 and ed tech at home. I recently spoke with someone at a school that has intentionally left technology out of their curriculum and school, computers are available but very limited. There are schools in the Bay Area that do this as well. In both cases the parents are well – off and have plenty of access and expertise at home. Several people have indicated this question of privilege in their responses: issues of rural access ( a particular interest of mine currently), the type of homework that is being done, whether or not access is available at home, cost of loss and damage, etc.
    It is not without notice as well that we may not as a profession have done the job of explaining what Beth is talking about in her post – that not all screen time is created equal, or that we have not done an adequate job preparing teachers for maximizing the tool so it is apparent that screen time at home holds value for learning – that the tablet or laptop is similar to bringing a textbook (or class novel) home. The public narrative around technology doesn’t always investigate the nuances of technology as a learning tool, rather it focuses on the tool, not the action involved in use. (e.g the “digital native” myth as adopted by the media, and therefore cultural narrative).
    There is so much involved in this question – the comments are rich with the different sides. And to reference part of the popular consciousness at the moment exactly why the LAUSD iPad initiative was a disaster from start to current finish.

  17. I am in an elementary school and we are not 1:1 but parents often do approach me asking my advice on the screen time topic. Beth Holland’s post (linked above) is great at outlining what I usually say to them… It’s not about the quantity but the quality…

    When I was a student, if I wanted to read Melville for hours that was ok, but there was a limit on comic books (and of course now all I want to do is read comics, but I digress). I generally bring that analogy to parents: would you question the amount of book time?

    And the answer the the above question is usually “of course” or “depends on the content” and I think that is the same as many of the point echoed above. It’s not about the amount of screen time or reading or homework, it’s about the quality of it. Screen-time should not be thought of as a separate, distinct task or endeavor, but as the 2013 equivalent of reading & writing was decades ago. I’m sure some parents would like to opt our of homework, but I would say if you wouldn’t opt out of traditional work, you shouldn’t need to/want to opt out of 1:1. Just need to adjust the thinking to replace the notion of heavy backpacks with the concept of a digital device.

    If it’s meaningful & relevant, the amount of time spent will be appropriate, whether its’s time in a book, pen to paper, or in front of a screen.

  18. Here’s an idea, engage kids in essential learning activities at school, infuse the technology meaningfully, and let kids be kids and enjoy their lives outside of school by not assigning loads of homework. (And elementary kids? Zero homework.) If kids are so inclined, with their devices they can extend their thinking at home on their own time, but don’t make it mandatory. This will allow parents the freedom to impose screen time limits in their homes if they so choose. That’s the issue I see with an over-reliance on “flipped” instruction. Great, the kids are engaging at home with the content, but what experiences in their extracurricular or family lives are they missing out on because they’re watching Khan Academy videos each night? Again, balance is key. If it’s a 5-10 minute digital assignment, no biggie. If kids are spending 2+ hours on digital homework each night, I’d be the parent who wanted to opt them out, too.

    • Lyn, I love your response and NSBA’s Center for Public Education has released a report on homework issues. I also share your concern with “flipped classrooms”; the amount and quality of lecture time being assigned and also, at upper grades, potentially a lack of collaboration between different subjects resulting in far too flipped time at home!

  19. I believe it’s a no way back route. Technology is just one more resource, a tool, a weapon and it comes to help us. As many other things, it’s easier to refuse it than to make real efforts to adopt it and adapt ourselves. On the other side, we parents should help our kids in the task of preparing themselves to their future environment, not ours. Thus brings us a very difficult adaptation process, many times requiring us to accept, even without understand, many of their choices. School should be a secure lab for trying all these techs out, despite the conservative reactions of parents. Of course balance is always desirable — so let’s do our part at home. Are we really prepared to help our kids to live their future, not our past?

  20. This is certainly a challenge educators are facing. As an elementary teacher in a 1:1 program we are sensing the tension between the power of tech and the concerns of parents and screen time. We have built in an “opt-out” option into all our work. Though we do not have devices travel home we do provide choice for all work done in school. If a child chooses not to use tech we have alternatives available and make those alternatives known before work starts. Yes, most kids gravitate towards the devices but there are always students, who are getting to know themselves as learners, who need a break from the screen. Sharing this option to parents does calm some of their anxiety about increased screen time.

  21. We are in the midst of our fourth year of a 1:1 program in our middle school. I have had a few of these conversations with parents, however it typically centered on the idea that the parent(s) do not trust their child using the internet at home. Unfortunately, it came back to one tough idea for some moms and dads to accept: The best “web filter” is proximity – have your son or daughter use the device in your presence only. Honestly, who would want an 11 year-old child to use the wide-open internet without some supervision? About 50% of those conversations have a positive result and the other 50% of the parents snarl and continue insisting that the child leaves the device at school, etc.

  22. I am all for what Lyn says. Work the kids during the day, limit homework to be meaningful, which places less reliance on the feeling of needs to be connected 24/7. I rarely ever gave homework when I taught 5th grade several years ago, and those kids (now in their early 20s) thank me for that. 1:1 shouldn’t be a delivery device to have the kids doing school work 16-20 hours a day.

    Learning can be anytime anywhere, but it doesn’t mean we (all of us) don’t need downtime, too.

    • Really! 16-20 hours of school a day! I don’t recall anyone even suggesting such a thing. I read somewhere, sorry I can’t quote the source, that the average student is engaged in learning less than two hours day. There are just so many opportunities for disruptions, off task behavior, behavior issues, and everything else that an hour of focused homework in a quiet place at home can be as beneficial as an entire school day.

      so I can sort of accept the argument for a reasonable amount of homework but I reject the notion that anyone is calling for 16 to 20 hours of school a day, except maybe parents who would happily leave full time parenting to schools.

  23. I have read several articles about how tech people are raising their own kids with less tech and more hands on. They believe that tech becomes a roadblock to experiencing the realities of life. Such as nature,textures and real life experiences. Tech cannot replace those and for example you can Skype with someone all you want but its not like being face to face in person. With children already spending hours at a screen at home. How is it good to subject them to even more time behind the screen at school? To me a lot of tech has become a crutch for parents as baby sitters and for educators who have given up on their own creative talents and now look to join the crowd so to speak in order to keep kids interested.

    • Matthew Malanowski Reply August 22, 2016 at 7:42 pm

      Technology is not the answer to poor public schools. Humans by nature learn through repetition, i.e. homework, and through all their senses, i.e. pen and paper. A house cannot be built without a good foundation. What is that old saying, all you need to know is reading, writing and arithmetic. FYI for all you tech enthusiasts, all this tech is based on a subject in school that is poorly overlooked, mathematics. Every fun thing is based on mathematical theories, from movies editing to song editing to the Internet to video games to architecture to space exploration. Mathematics is the oldest and newest technology and it continually progresses through other countries.

      Many parents love putting their children into sports and even help them practice those sports to become better. Why not put that energy and motivation into learning?

      The first day of school, I go to my children’s math teachers and let them know my child will not be using a calculator in their class. At this point, I usually get a dirty look like I am abusing my children. I have had to do this since the 3rd grade. Mental arithmetic is a basic function to everyday life.

      I will end by saying learning comes from the attitude and mindset of the student, which they learn and experience at home. If parents dislike certain subjects and vocalize their dislikes, their children will pick up on this and have the same attitude, hence the cycle continues.

    • I agree with the sophisticated tech parents who, like Stephen Jobs, limit tech for their children. I’m in favor of a purely classical education with cursive writing ( was recently at a bridal shower where the young bride handed several cards to her mom because she couldn’t read “cursive.”
      Let the kids learn the real way and use computers and tech as a tool later-the way we did.
      There are so many reasons this is brst- tech is addicting- and how exactly can parents monitor the screen at home? It’s easy to flip between programs from reading to gaming. Should we sit alongside our child while they complete assignments to police their use of tech?
      Security breaches happen a lot more than people found like to know- and that’s with parental protection devices in place.
      The. Moments about chalk boards and paper are erroneous. Chalk boards and paper are not addicting and are not one click away from the world wide world of porn.

  24. I wonder how this affects implementing a BYOD program, specially in High School?

    What happens to parents that are not willing to participate in the 1:1 program and how can the school meet the IT learning objectives?

    Have any of you ran into this problem?

  25. Maybe I am missing something here, but even though I agree with some of the “pro” tech arguments I have other concerns that I have yet to see anyone address. I have a 10th grade student who has ADHD and other emotional disorders. Our school district issues netbooks to the students and expect them to use these devices for everything (most classes haven’t even got textbooks) I hear the argument that use of computers are preparing our children for their future environment, but how many schools are “teaching” the kids proper use of these computers? I know that our school does not. Speaking only for our situation, our daughter does not have the skills to regulate screen usage. She is using her screen time to soothe symptoms of her ADHD, and social anxieties. Furthermore it is not the teachers job to baby-sit technology use in the class, we as parents do try and monitor her usage and are usually in the room with her (or nearby) while she is doing homework, but honestly it is almost impossible to see what is on those tiny screens and the kids are masters at clicking exit or going to another tab if they think you are getting too close. Sadly, technology in classrooms is leading to entire groups of kids with learning differences being left further behind. We have had extensive discussions regarding this issue with her special ed teacher, the school psychologist, and the school counselor and haven’t had success yet, their only solution is to allow her to check out the computer in the morning and check it in before leaving school in the afternoon, but that really doesn’t solve any of our concerns along with the fact that she can’t complete her homework without a computer. I am currently pursuing other options on my own, one being “no computer” written into her IEP. I would welcome any response from administrators, educators, and parents. Just for the record, in case anyone is wondering, we do have computers at home, but time is very limited, she has not got a smartphone, and we watch very little TV, not because we can’t, but because we have better things to do.

  26. I think many of you are missing a major issue here: most of these devices require agreeing to a EULA and a Privacy Policy. These are legally considered contracts. My child does not have the right to sign a contract. I do not believe the school should have a right to do so on my behalf. I block all google servers at a host level on my home router due to privacy issues. If a school requires, as many do, a google account I cannot allow my child to access those sites at home without compromising my own network and personal security. I am happy to provide and configure a device for my child, but most districts do not allow a student to bring their own device. I am a software engineer and can guarantee my child will be more capable than most in using technology. but they will also be educated about their rights and about the myriad privacy issues when using google, apply, and microsoft products. There is a reason Steve Jobs did not allow his children to use an iPad: they are designed to be as addictive as smoking. The issues with these devices go on and on and a parent should have the right to say no.

  27. While I truly appreciate the concerns you raise about privacy with your background as software engineer, I also know district administrators struggle to get devices in the hands of students who are not as fortunate to have a tech-savvy parent and resources at home. We know nationally that the digital divide – and more importantly, a digital use divide in how the devices actually support instruction – remains a very real issue. Especially in districts where instructional practices are moving from a focus on students simply consuming content and automating past paper worksheets to using the devices in ways that allow them to be more engaged with their learning as creators of content, then ensuring all students have access becomes a question of equity.

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