The family guide to going back to school with technology

Boston Children's Digital Wellness Lab
Share this:
Jump to

Sharpened pencils and cool first-day outfits have always been part of the back-to-school fun, but for today’s kids, things aren’t as analog as they used to be.

Schools are accelerating the integration of technology into classrooms and for use in assignments, making it challenging for both parents and kids to keep track of everything from school-issued devices to new learning apps, and to learn how to communicate digitally with teachers, other parents and friends. Read this guide for tips on how to better support and manage your child’s relationship with technology to create a healthy learning environment and good tech habits.

Technology for learning.

Research from Education Week found a dramatic increase in the number of school districts providing one-to-one devices for students (i.e.each student has their own device). The number of districts with one student per device in high school and middle school increased from 66% and 65%, respectively, to 90%. In elementary school, the change was even more dramatic, from 42% of districts to 84% of districts. This increase in one-on-one access means your child will likely be using a device for online assignments and homework.

Many students have positive views about using technology in their learning and feel like it adds to their understanding of the material or enables them to access more digital resources. Digital tools have also been shown to provide opportunities for students to increase their digital social skills.

Edtech can provide students with learning opportunities delivered in a format they know well, but it can present some of the same challenges as the connection- and amusement-focused technology kids and teens use during their non-school hours. This makes it important for parents to help their children balance and manage their device use both in and out of school.

Kid using phone under table in classroom

The importance of self-regulation.

Self-regulation refers to our ability to control our behavior and manage thoughts and emotions in appropriate ways. It’s critical to help children develop self-regulation skills so they learn how to handle conflicts, stress, and take care of their overall well-being.

There are four main categories of self-regulation: physical, emotional, mental, and social.

Physical: Physical self-regulation helps kids control impulses to lash out physically in anger or frustration.

Emotional: Emotional self-regulation helps kids calm down intense feelings and control emotions so they aren’t overwhelming.

Mental: Mental self-regulation helps kids concentrate and develop the discipline necessary to learn and perform tasks.

Social: Social self-regulation helps kids form strong relationships by not letting strong impulses or emotions control our behavior.

Research suggests that students’ use of digital tools may result in lower self-regulation. The very features of the technology they use — instant gratification, immediate feedback, distractions at the click of a button — can inhibit self-regulation. Following are some tips to help mitigate these effects and help children develop better self-regulation to set them up for success in school and beyond.

Limit distractions and multitasking.

Media multitasking (texting while listening to a lecture, for example) is tempting but can have negative consequences for academic performance. Talk to your child about how media multitasking and other distractions can interfere with their ability to learn. Help them stay focused and retain what they’re learning by working with them to create agreements for study environment rules and practices.

Your child may need to use digital media or technology to complete their homework, but make sure other distractions are put away. If they have a cell phone, remind them to put it on silent and keep it in another room while studying. Additionally, using techniques like a focus timer can help them concentrate on the task at hand and develop stronger mental self-regulation.

By giving them the information and tools they need to keep themselves focused, you’ll empower them to develop lifelong discipline and tech boundaries. (But don’t forget to check in with them to see whether they need additional support.)

Set up routines.

Routines are essential processing shortcuts for our brains that help us establish good habits. They help relieve stress, improve time management, and make tasks easier and more consistent. Establishing a daily routine is important for everyone, not just young children. Whatever your child’s age, help them create a routine for each section of their day (morning, afternoon, and evening), including how they plan to use technology throughout. A healthy, balanced routine can help your child improve their study habits and commit to specific goals. For example, if you establish a nighttime routine where tech is turned off or put away between 8 PM – 7 AM, you’ll help them improve their sleep now and in the future.

Learn with your child.

As your child starts using more technology for school, teachers might take advantage of digital tools to keep parents “in the loop.” Be sure to ask teachers what tools they’re using for the year, like Class Dojo, Google Classroom, Talking Points, or other communication tools, so that you can familiarize yourself with them and ensure you get all the updates on your young scholar!

Some of the digital media your child uses in the classroom or school might also provide great learning opportunities at home. Minecraft has an Education Edition and has been used successfully to represent biomes, support mathematical learning, and engage students in collaboration.

Research shows that co-playing video games can have many benefits; the more families play together, the closer they feel. Co-playing can also help support parent-child relationships and act as a coping tool. Ask your child to share the technology they are using in the classroom; who knows, you might even become a Minecraft or coding expert along the way!

In addition to learning together, sit down and discuss the importance of not giving in to the temptation to look up answers on the internet.

Research shows that looking up answers may not negatively affect homework or in-class grades but may result in lower test scores because kids are not retaining information. It’s essential to encourage academic independence and integrity from an early age to instill strong study habits for college and beyond.

Media use agreement.


Revisiting or creating a new media use agreement can help set boundaries and expectations for how children should use technology both in the classroom and at home. Media use agreements extend beyond using tech to study and can cover all tech and digital media use at home and at school. This includes things like keeping phones and tablets in another room while sleeping, daily and weekly screentime limits, appropriate content, and more.

Additional resources.

The great thing about digital media is that it can put the world at our fingertips and provides many learning opportunities in any setting. If you’re looking to create learning opportunities for your children outside of schools, it may seem like the number of “educational” apps and websites is overwhelming.

Unfortunately, not every resource labeled as being educational lives up to its promise, so evaluating the digital media your child is using is important. The good news is that there are many resources that can help you evaluate and choose digital media for your children.


Bohn, K. (2021, May 11). Top educational apps for children might not be as beneficial as promised. Penn State.
Bushweller, Kevin. (2022, May 17). What the massive shift to 1-to-1 computing means for schools, in charts. EducationWeek.
Common Sense Media (n.d). Best for learning: Our recommendations for families.
Coyne, S. M., Padilla-Walker, L. M., Stockdale, L., & Day, R. D. (2011). Game On… Girls: Associations Between Co-playing Video Games and Adolescent Behavioral and Family Outcomes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 49(2), 160-165.
Glass, A. L., & Kang, M. (2019). Dividing attention in the classroom reduces exam performance. Educational Psychology, 39(3), 395-408.
May, K. E., & Elder, A. D. (2018). Efficient, helpful, or distracting? A literature review of media multitasking in relation to academic performance. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 15(1), 13.
McNaughton, S., Zhu, T., Rosedale, N., Jesson, R., Oldehaver, J., & Williamson, R. (2022). In school and out of school digital use and the development of children’s self‐regulation and social skills. British journal of educational psychology, 92(1), 236-257.
Minecraft Education. (n.d).
Mourlam, D. J., DeCino, D. A., Newland, L. A., & Strouse, G. A. (2020). “It’s fun!” using students’ voices to understand the impact of school digital technology integration on their well-being. Computers and education, 159, 104003.
Nebel, S., Schneider, S., & Rey, G. D. (2016). Mining Learning and Crafting Scientific Experiments: A Literature Review on the Use of Minecraft in Education and Research. Educational technology & society, 19(2), 355-366.
Pearce, K. E., Yip, J. C., Lee, J. H., Martinez, J. J., Windleharth, T. W., Bhattacharya, A., & Li, Q. (2022). Families Playing Animal Crossing Together: Coping With Video Games During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Games and Culture, 17(5), 773-794.
Pomodoro Method. (2022, August 16). In Wikipedia.
Shapiro, J. (2018). Digital play for global citizens. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop
Wang, B., Taylor, L., & Sun, Q. (2018). Families that play together stay together: Investigating family bonding through video games. New Media & Society, 20(11), 4074-4094.

It’s not uncommon for elementary schools to offer a device for schoolwork. It is critical to discuss with your child how they will use technology during the school year and how it might be different from their summer use.

Related tags:
Got a question? Ask an expert here

You ask. We answer!

The online world is full of questions—and we’re here to help answer them. Submit a question here, and we’ll publish it (anonymously), with expert answers, tips, and insights. We'll also email you when your answer is available. While every family is different, your question could be a top concern for other parents. Understanding is a click away.

Ask away!
We've received your question, thank you.

We aim to answer you as quickly as possible, typically within five business days. We’ll also email you a copy of the answer in addition to a link where you can view.

Our responses to your questions are for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never disregard professional advice or delay in seeking it.

Something went wrong while submitting the form.

We’re here to help

Find the resources, community, and conversations you need to raise a safer, more connected generation