Photo courtesy of Ashley Austrew

Dear Schools, Enough With the Apps & Parent Portals Already

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Class Dojo. SeeSaw. Konstella. No, they are not the latest alternatives to FortNite, they’re school apps and ”parent portals” that I’m supposed to use to obsessively track my child’s progress at school. And they’re killing me.

In the past week alone, I’ve gotten six emails about the date change for mom & son miniature golf, four alerts that my daughter is following basic school rules, and a bunch of notifications that new worksheets have been uploaded to one of the apps. I’ve heard friends complaining about parent portals for years, but because my kids are a little bit younger than theirs, I had never actually used one until this year. Now I long for that bygone time when I was innocent to the creep of technology that has drawn parents deeper into their kids’ academic lives. Because the problem is not just communicating about school via app. The problem is how much information is being communicated.

One of the three apps I’ve been asked to download gives me the ability to log in and keep track of imaginary points my daughter earns for having good behavior in class. The points can be traded for prizes, like stickers and snacks, but there’s no parent role in the process. She racks up the points by doing what her teacher asks and her teacher rewards her for following the rules.

So, why am I involved in this transaction? The short answer is that I shouldn’t be. I’m happy that my daughter is doing well, of course. But I don’t need to be notified every time she does her work or sits quietly. Just hit me up when she’s not doing that.

Another app lets my daughter’s teacher post photos of every worksheet and assignment they do in class. So, before my daughter brings 37 coloring pages and math worksheets home for me to recycle, I can look at photos of them online. Yay me!

Could I change my notification settings? Probably. But then I’d have to remember my password.

The third portal+app combo is where general school news and PTA needs are shared. This is good information, and I’m actually okay with this app — that is, when it’s not emailing seven times a day because “Amanda P. liked a post about: Book Fair Location Change.” Could I change my notification settings? Probably. But then I’d have to remember my password.

And that’s the other thing — each one of these apps has its own requirements for password characters and login credentials. They have all a million different notification settings and reminders and alerts. My phone is pinging constantly with updates about the goings on of first grade, when frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

“I spend the entire school year resetting my password for those portals!” one of my friends said when I posted about my app problems on Facebook. “And they're always super glitchy so there's inevitably an email to tech support involved, which takes forever to get answered. The upshot is, I never know what the hell is going on with my kids.”

When I was a kid in school in the pre-portal ‘90s, my mom had no idea what the hell I was doing either. And that’s the way it should be. If I didn’t do my work, I brought home a failing grade on my six-week progress report, and had to face her wrath. If I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do in class, I got called out for it by the teacher and stopped acting up. I understood that my parents made the rules at home and my teachers made the rules at school, and that both carried equal weight. With the ubiquitousness of parent portals and school apps, I feel like we’re eroding that line between home and school. In the quest to get parents more involved, it seems we’ve stumbled into a strange extreme where parents have to be able to know, comment on, and interact with every single thing their kids do. Suddenly, parents are the overseers, spying on every move teachers make, omniscient in their ability to leave real-time comments about every in-class activity.

These portals and apps seem to be set up to promote a level of helicopter parenthood that I am not down with.

I’m certainly not advocating for a lack of parental involvement. My youngest has a speech delay that qualifies him for special education, and I know firsthand how important parental involvement is to his success. I play an active role in reading with both of my kids and working with them at home. I buy extra supplies when their classes are running low so it won’t come out of the teachers’ pockets. I support every fundraiser and book fair. I sign up when they need volunteers. I am actually the designated “room mom” for my daughter’s class parties.

But there’s a difference between being supportive and hovering, and these portals and apps seem to be set up to promote a level of helicopter parenthood that I am not down with. School is not just a place where I send my kids to learn the alphabet and how to count by tens. It’s also where they get their first taste of independence and get to put into practice the lessons they’re learning about being a responsible, respectful, self-motivated human being. That growth doesn’t happen if I’m hanging over their academic life like a shadow.

Ultimately, we all — teachers included — want kids to succeed. But I want my kids to complete their assignments, show initiative, and be thoughtful peers and classmates because they want to succeed too, not because they know that mom will be checking the app later.