There’s no question that the Internet and smart devices have enhanced learning in a multitude of ways and become invaluable educational tools for students and teachers alike. Technology can make learning more engaging and interactive, and it significantly broadens access to content, resources and materials. From cognitive skill development to research to problem-solving and collaboration, the Internet and a whole host of innovative apps are making it easier than ever for today’s students to explore, learn and grow.

But widespread access to technology also comes with risk. Parents and educators are becoming increasingly concerned about the downsides of too much screen time, as well as the potential harm caused by certain kinds of content and sites.

Alarm Bells Ring Over Tech’s Negative Effects on Kids

Recent testimony before the US Congress has raised awareness about how social media use can affect young people’s mental health, shining a spotlight on serious issues like cyberbullying, manipulative marketing, and exposure to sexually explicit material. The experiences shared by parents, as well as findings from new research, are also revealing how social media content can contribute to eating disorders, school vandalism, drug use and other problems.

The pandemic has only exacerbated many of these issues. The shift to remote learning made it more challenging to keep tabs on students’ well-being, precisely at a time when many kids have been feeling more vulnerable and isolated than ever before. In reviewing its data from the 2020-21 school year, Gaggle found increases across all of the content categories it monitors, including a 143% increase in nudity and sexual content, a 98% increase in drugs and alcohol content, a 67% increase in suicide and self-harm content, a 67% increase in violence toward others, and a 16% increase in harassment.

It’s not just an issue for teenagers, either. In a recent poll, about half of parents of children ages 10 to 12 and 32% of parents of kids ages 7 to 9 said their child used social media apps in the first six months of 2021. Understandably, many respondents are worried about their children’s ability to safely navigate these apps. And in fact, Gaggle’s data from March 13, 2020 to March 12, 2021 shows that incidents for elementary students increased by 100% or more in every major category the company flags.

“These are astonishing numbers,” as Paget Hetherington, VP of Marketing at Gaggle, said in a recent webinar co-presented by Kajeet and Gaggle. “We all need to be thinking K-12 here. All these kids across all these grade levels are struggling,” she emphasized.

Even seemingly benign interactions on social media networks can have detrimental impacts on mental health. Some literature reports that social media use increases anxiety and depression among teens in surprising ways, one of which is FoMO, or “fear of missing out.” Through the lens of social media, students have constant access to images and videos depicting parties they weren’t invited to, concerts they couldn’t afford, class trips they needed to skip and more – an anxiety-inducing vision for most adolescents.

Social media also contributes to depression and anxiety in teens by disrupting their sleep cycles. Even adults are susceptible to the siren-song of browsing in bed, but many teens have not yet developed the discipline and boundaries necessary to shut down devices and delay responding to their friends until the morning – often feeling immense amounts of pressure to be constantly available. In short, scrolling through a classmate’s Instagram feed and responding to well-meaning messages past bedtime can negatively impact a teen’s mental health.

And the mental health aspect isn’t the only concern when it comes to the educational environment. If not well-managed, technology and social media use can easily become a distraction that gets in the way of learning. After all, with the full range of the Internet in their hands, students have access to a wide range of educational material as well as plenty of other content that has nothing to do with school and may introduce risks to the school’s network security.

With technology’s integral role in schools today, it’s more important than ever for districts to put up some guardrails around what students can access and when.

How Educational Filters Work

To get the positives of tech in education, teachers need to make sure their students stay on task and focused on educational activities—and they need to keep them from being distracted by the wealth of non-educational content available online. But manually monitoring usage, flagging problematic sites and policing online activity can be time consuming and challenging, if not downright impossible.

A more efficient an effective approach is filtering at the network level. With robust educational filters, administrators can preemptively block certain domains across all kinds of wireless devices, from Chromebooks to iPads, and prevent students from accessing non-relevant sites, apps and content.

What’s more, a robust cloud-based solution can provide detailed statistics so the school can stay on top of what users in any device group are doing while online. Not only is this important for remaining CIPA-compliant, it puts the control in the administrator’s hands so that you can continually monitor and make adjustments as needed before big problems arise.

Not all educational filters are alike, though. Here are some things to look for when evaluating your options:

Cloud-based platform

A centralized, secure platform is the foundation of any effective wireless solution. This is your hub, where detailed statistics on device usage, activity and other metrics can all be accessed, reviewed and reported on. To get the most out of your solution, educational filters should be built into the platform, giving you line of sight and management capabilities right where you need them.

Off-the-shelf filtering

What URLs and sites should you block? A solution that includes standardized filter groupings can get you off the ground and running quickly. For example, Kajeet’s Sentinel® Platform offers pre-assigned Low, Medium and High Filtering groups for a hassle-free, CIPA-compliant setup.

Customized filtering

In addition to standardized filters, it’s important to have the flexibility to create your own groups or edit the standardized filters to meet your student population’s needs. As you glean insights from your monitoring, usage and URL request data, you may also discover more granular adjustments are needed. For example, you may want to allow certain groups or devices to be able to access a specific website or URL while preventing all other users from accessing it. Making these kinds of filter adjustments should be quick and simple to do.

Device-level insights and control

Protecting students’ mental health isn’t just about preventing access to certain sites. It’s also about helping them manage their time online. The ability to set, monitor and manage usage time by device helps students optimize their screen time, and it keeps data usage levels in check. That includes time-of-day controls so that busy students can get their beauty sleep!

Automatic updates

The Internet grows exponentially every single day. An effective educational filter continually updates along with it, so you can enjoy ongoing, worry-free protection.

Final Thoughts

For all the benefits of technology in the classroom, the concerns about students’ mental health are real and deserve to be taken seriously. A few preventative steps, including robust educational filtering, can go a long way toward maximizing the positives and minimizing potential harms.

Kajeet is committed to making it simple and hassle-free for educators to onboard with a robust and secure filtering solution, tailor-made for education. Contact us today to speak with a Kajeet Solutions Engineer.