Back-to-school tech tools

Talk to your kids about how they want to use technology to help manage its use. Photo: dolgachov

Technology has become a big part of back-to-school gear, beyond school supplies and clothes. Managing our children’s technology has almost become a full-time job, so this year I am calling in some reinforcements. With the help of these tools we can stay organized, informed, and eliminate the never-ending battles over screen time.


One of the best tips for managing technology is to have a family plan. A great place to start is Common Sense Media (, which has sample media contracts that can be customized to meet your family’s needs.

The first step to creating a plan is having a conversation. Talk about how your children want to use the technology, and then set guidelines around how much time they can spend doing it.

These plans can be a great place to start digital citizenship conversations around staying safe, appropriate online behavior, and the balance of tech and nontech activities. Our family plan has guidelines, but also ideas about how we can share tech together whether it is playing a new game or a family movie night.

Something new I am introducing to schools is called the “Parent Pact” (, which is a set of guidelines parents in a given class agree to and try to follow. I like to consider it a roadmap with suggested practices for setting your child and your family up for success. It includes ideas like removing devices from the bedroom at night and having a set time to turn off technology. 


Having a central charging station so all devices are together overnight is important along with an additional tool to help monitor the time and places my children are going online. I recently found two devices that help make both of these possible.

The perfect charging dock/organizer for our family is the Simicore Smart. It holds up to six devices, including smartphones, tablets, and even headsets, and it keeps everything clean, organized, and in one place. Everyone knows before bed to bring their device to the charging station, and that is it for the night.

The other device I am implementing is called Circle. It helps set time limits, filters, and bedtimes for every person and device. I have found this a great tool because it allows me to set different guidelines for my 5-year-old than for my 12-year-old. I call it my new “BFF” (best friend forever) so my children understand this is a tool meant to help, not police. The set-up is easy, and you can set up profiles for every family member and pair devices to each profile. Circle provides information about where my kids are spending their time (and how much), the set custom filters, time limits (different ones can be set for the school week and the weekend), and a bedtime, when it all shuts down. You can also give rewards like extended time limits or a later bedtime, which has proven to be a major incentive for us. 


A fun new tech tool, KidNuz, is my new morning carpool accessory. Started by three of my former co-workers at KTVU, it is a daily nonpartisan news podcast for kids. If you love to start your day knowing what’s going on in the world but don’t like the doom and gloom of television news or the sometimes-sketchy content of morning radio, this is your answer. The podcast is only five minutes and includes a quiz. It’s a great carpool conversation generator or can be listened to individually on the bus or a walk to school.

The podcast is delivered at 7 a.m. each morning via text or email so it’s easy to find. For older kids who are more interested in current events or current events are part of their curriculum, this gives them a leg up before they even walk into the classroom. The stories are topical, interesting, and there’s something for everyone.

Technology isn’t going away and is quickly becoming more a part of our children’s daily lives. Engaging in good communication about it and finding ways to participate together are great ways to help ensure your family has a successful year.


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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive and healthy conversations around social media and technology. Formerly, she was a news producer at KTVU-TV in Oakland. Email: [email protected]