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What You Need to Know About Videoconferencing and Military Kids

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Students around the country are using video conferencing platforms to keep in touch with friends, classmates and teachers. (Rebecca Alwine)

Have you found yourself in a bit of a role reversal with your school-aged children? Now, they're scheduling Zoom calls, asking you to be quiet during their Google Hangout, and requiring desk space for their work.

It's kind of fun watching them connect with their peers over technology and to see them excited about engaging with friends, classmates and teachers. But if you have younger kids, or you aren't familiar with the way these platforms work, it can also be frustrating. And maybe a bit scary.

You're not the only parent concerned.

First, let's talk about the positives of technology and helping your kids stay connected with their peers.

It's fun. Yup, it's fun for those kiddos to see their friends, to connect with them.

Military spouse and education advocate Meg Flanagan explained a little bit more. "If kids don't have similar-age siblings -- or siblings at all -- they are pretty much flying solo in their life. Anything that helps them connect with another child is positive."

Flanagan says that all studies on education have said that kids need to be around their peers. They need to have conversations, play and make connections to be their best selves and to eventually become functioning members of society.

What does that mean for us as parents? It means making those Google Hangouts and Zoom calls a priority. In my house, it means letting my middle schooler play Xbox with his friends, because he can't be outside with them. It means shutting the door and ignoring the bedlam when my fourth-grader shrieks with delight to see her best friends in a class hangout.

It's beneficial for their education. Flanagan said that, beyond tracking education for older students, classroom apps and educational technology are a vital part of making sure kids progress.

"For example, the Seesaw classroom app allows teachers to post assignments, students to complete and submit them, and teachers can send same-day feedback. It allows teachers to track what students are doing online in terms of learning standards," Flanagan explained.

And it's important as students progress through the years. "Fifth-grade math won't make much sense if you miss fourth-grade math. Tracking digitally is really important," she added.

But she emphasizes that the social connection is the most important part. And, as we're seeing in bloopers of adult Zoom calls, they may have us on this one. Practicing now gives them the opportunity to play around and learn the technology in a low-stakes way.

Flanagan said, "They feel grown-up and cool. It's not just FaceTime with Grandma and Grandpa, but it's with your friend and your teacher. It's a good training tool for later on."

Now, let's talk about the downsides -- more specifically the things you should look out for. Internet safety, personal security and even operational security should still be acknowledged when your kids are online.

The FBI has warned users of an increase of "Zoom-bombing" as more people use Zoom. This makes sense, and surely some of it can be attributed to kids playing around in class, but there are some legitimate concerns. Examples in the northeastern states include people logging into Zoom calls they were not invited to, presenting information that is inappropriate for the platform, and using foul language, hate speech and pornographic photos.

But there are some precautions you can take, both as the initiator of a Zoom call or videoconference. Here's what the FBI recommends:

  • Keep meetings and online classrooms private. Require a password to enter or use the waiting room feature and admit guests you know.
  • Don't share the link on public social media platforms but provide it directly to those who need it.
  • Prevent guests from screen sharing; save that for the hosts only.
  • Encourage people to update their Zoom settings, which were amended in January 2020 and removed the option of scanning for meetings to join.
  • Make sure your organization, household or classroom expectations for behavior on videoconference are clear -- and enforced.

As always, internet safety is important for kids to learn. Make sure they know not to share information when online, even with their classmates and teachers. And, if they're sitting at your desk, make sure nothing is showing that shouldn't be.

Embracing technology as a family is one way we can stay in touch with friends, classmates and family members throughout the years. By taking this time to teach your kids how to safely and properly videoconference, you're giving them tools that will help them become successful adults.

Which is, of course, the ultimate goal.

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