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HomeArticlesUsing Common Sense: Privacy and Distance Learning Tips for Parents

Using Common Sense: Privacy and Distance Learning Tips for Parents

With schools across Arizona dealing with teacher shortages and hybrid learning as the pandemic wanes on, families are quickly figuring out how to navigate all the apps and websites kids are using.

Families and educators are juggling a lot of new technology and parents may be wondering what risks these new tools pose and how they can minimize those risks. Which privacy settings should you use? Are parental controls available? To help navigate these questions and more, Common Sense offers these tips for keeping kids — and their personal information — safe during distance learning.

Make privacy a family value. As your child’s school district embraces more online and digital learning tools, remember your role as a parent/caregiver remains unchanged. You are still in charge of media and technology in your home, and you should still be setting expectations for your family. Because students must rely on technology daily for learning and communicating with friends, the first step is using strict privacy settings in apps and on websites. You can also go further by choosing privacy-friendly web browsers, limiting ad tracking on mobile phones and smart devices, and installing plug-ins like ad blockers and tracker blockers to limit how much data companies can collect about your kid while they’re online. It’s important to have conversations with kids of all ages about how to keep their personal information safe online.

Be careful what you share online about your kids and their classmates. Parents and caregivers have an important responsibility to protect kids’ privacy, as well as the privacy of their classmates. Be choosy about what you share and with whom. The more you post, the bigger your digital footprint and the more data companies can collect. Be careful about sharing your child’s full name, the name of their school, or their actual location online.

Ask your kid before sharing their image on social media, and you may want to give your kid a veto over any sharing you do. It’s always important to think about the effects sharing info about your kid can have on their future well-being. You have a great influence on your kid. Monitor younger kids, and help them understand that what gets posted online can be difficult to remove or take back. Talk to older kids about social media and how they are portraying themselves to the world.

Learn about parental controls to minimize distractions and data collection. Become familiar with the technology your kid is using for school. Some apps and most operating systems include parental controls. Parental controls can support you in your efforts to keep your child’s internet experiences safe, fun, and productive. They work best when used openly and honestly in partnership with your kids — not as a stealth spying method. Make sure you explain why you’re putting controls in place and how those controls will help keep them safe. You don’t need to be an expert at managing technology to help your kid stay safe and focused online. Check with your school’s technology department to find out which safeguards and filters are already in place and which additional parental controls you can set up.

Learn more about your schools’ educational apps and platforms. Schools have an important job in safeguarding student privacy, and they should inform parents and caregivers how they’re doing it. Schools should review and carefully curate which apps and services they use — and which they expect their students to use — to ensure both academic success and student data privacy and safety. We know it isn’t practical to read the privacy policy of every app or tool your school wants to use. Instead, ask school leaders how they vet and approve technology — there should be a plan in place, rather than it being a free-for-all where individual teachers let students download anything. Check with your kid’s school to get more information about which apps and websites have been school-approved.

Parents and caregivers should ask the following questions:

  • How does the school decide whether the educational software or apps it uses protect my kid’s privacy?
  • What information does the school collect and how is it stored?
  • Who can get access to the school’s list of students and their contact information?
  • When do I need to provide consent for my kid to use software at school?
  • What sort of tracking does the school do on school-provided devices and software?

Ask questions and exercise your privacy rights. Communication between parents and schools is more important now than ever. Remember you have rights to access your child’s education records and the information that apps collect about your kids under federal and state laws. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act sets a baseline of privacy protections for educational records, while the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act protects information collected from children under the age of 13.

While you may be feeling challenged by new digital learning tools and platforms from your school, the goals of teaching and learning haven’t changed. Use your child’s teacher as a resource, and ask how you can best support your child.

For more tips and helpful information, visit

Ilana Lowery is the Arizona director for the nonprofit Common Sense Media. She can be reached at

Ilana Lowery
Ilana Lowery
Ilana Lowery is the Arizona director for Common Sense Media. She can be reached at



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