From toddler screen time to cyber bullying, technology can be a source of anxiety – but it doesn’t have to be.
Since its founding in 2003, Common Sense Media has helped parents, teachers and policymakers navigate this uncharted territory through digital literacy tools and television, movie, and game reviews that rate content for age-appropriateness and learning potential.
As the organization’s Pittsburgh regional manager of education, Jennifer Ehehalt connects schools and families to these resources, drawing from her background in elementary education and leadership (she holds degrees from Clarion and Edinboro), and her experience as a mother of two young children.
We spoke with Ehehalt about her favorite kids’ apps and shows and the importance of raising responsible digital citizens.
1. Why do you feel it’s important to bring Common Sense Media’s mission to Pittsburgh?
Our region is on the forefront of innovation, and our schools need to prepare our kids for 21st-century learning.
I help by collaborating with administration teams to build strategies around implementing digital citizenship in classrooms and designing professional development workshops for educators. I also help PTAs deliver parent workshops that include topics like managing screen time, digital footprints and photo sharing, social media, and cyber bullying.
I hope to help build a school and community culture that provides unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools that empower students to harness technology for learning and life.
2. How would you like to see educators and parents using digital literacy resources?
Educators are using more and more technology in their teaching practices. The minute a device goes into the hands of a student, the classroom becomes a computer lab, allowing students access to information beyond their school building.
As a teacher, I understand this can be overwhelming, and as a parent, it can raise a lot of questions about what type of learning is happening.
My professional workshops offer tips for bringing technology into the classroom, from coding and protecting student data and privacy to communicating with parents, helping students spot fake news and managing digital distraction in class.
And our Connecting Families Toolkit helps parents address important topics and have meaningful conversations with their kids about making great choices in their digital lives.
3. How have students and teachers in Allegheny County responded to the curriculum?
Common Sense offers a K-12, interactive curriculum based upon the research of Dr. Howard Garner and the Good Play Project out of the Harvard School of Education. Students learn about everything from privacy and security, digital footprints, cyberbullying, and copyright to self-image, relationships, and information literacy.
The Allegheny Intermediate Unit has played a crucial role in helping me reach school districts in Allegheny County, including Bethel Park, Fox Chapel, the Environmental Charter School, Plum Borough, Propel Charter Schools and Woodland Hills.
I have trained over 1,000 educators who all feel this is an important topic and love how our tools help them communicate with parents.
4. As a parent, do you set rules in your own household around screen time and technology usage?
As a mother of two (Caroline, 2, and Henry, 7 months), I definitely set rules. Although they are young, it is never too early to create good habits.
Our household’s two biggest rules: No screen time before bed and a device-free dinner.
I limit Caroline’s screen time to less than an hour each day, which may include looking at family pictures on the iPad, FaceTime with grandparents, listening to music, watching “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and “Doc McStuffins” and using other age-appropriate apps. We love anything by Sago Mini and Endless Alphabet is starting to make an appearance. Henry also participates in FaceTime with grandparents and occasionally watches an episode of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.”
5. Does your job impact how you integrate digital media into your family life?
Common Sense Media’s parent resources are a great guide to my husband and me as we strive to teach our children how to be safe and responsible with technology, and my job has impacted the decisions I make for my family. You would never give a child keys to a car without spending time teaching them all the rules of the road, right? Then don’t give them a device with access to the world without teaching them how to use it safely, responsibly and ethically.