parenting in a digital (covid-19) world

It goes without saying that current events significantly impact mental health. Recent research procured by Omnibus findings suggests increases in struggles such as anxiety, depression, and substance use since the onset of Covid-19 (Truman, 2020). Emotional disruption that emerges in times of uncertainty is greater for young people than any other demographic, as many of the tools of resilience and executive functioning are not yet fully accessible and/or developed. And we know that emotional disruption trumps intellectual engagement and rational thinking abilities every time. In this perhaps daunting context, we are charged with caring for our children as well as our own wellbeing. As the great psychologist Victor Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”.

In early October, a parenting opportunity was organized in the Elementary School to discuss the nuances of parenting in a digital world, particularly now that Covid-19 necessitates increased dependence on digital tools. What emerged from this important conversation were shared experiences and insights as to how to successfully navigate potentially uncomfortable moments with our children, including:

Connection

We know that human connection is necessary and valuable, and the disruption to this connection caused by Covid-19 amplifies this need. Parents benefit from keeping perspective to the motivation behind digital engagement as opposed to the fear that sometimes dominates conversations about time online and social media. More often than not, the motivation of children and adolescents is, quite simply, connection (Heitner, 2016). Whereby the mechanism for that connection has changed, the essence is the same: our relationships with others matter and relationships need to be maintained to thrive.

Boundaries

Understanding the need for (digital) connection does not mean there aren’t limits imposed. Too much is not a good thing in many circumstances, and digital engagement is no exception. Keep devices out of bedrooms, think about establishing clear times where screens are allowed and others that are screen-free. And remember to model this as well. If parents are constantly on their phones, it’s a harder sell to your kids that boundaries are important.

Mentor vs. Monitor

As Dr. Devorah Heitner purports in her book Screenwise, kids actually want our mentorship. They love hearing our stories and thoughts, they want guidance and discussion. Mentoring is qualitatively different than simply monitoring (and nagging). Mentoring takes time, but it fuels connection and positive relationships between parents and children.

Locus Of Control

There is so much uncertainty in the world right now and so much that we do not have any control over - rather than focusing on that which we can’t control, focus on what you can control. What analog (i.e. non-digital) ways are you spending time with your family? How are you controlling your own consumption of media? Ideas such as board games, trivia nights, storytelling, spending time outdoors and reconnecting with other hobbies/interests were often brought u

remember

Self-Care is not Selfish - nobody expects perfection from anybody in the best of times. You have permission to not be at your best, to feel overwhelmed, to feel worried, and to need support. There is nothing shameful about taking time to take care of yourself in whatever ways bring you joy.

This year has been and continues to be exceptional in so many ways. Approaching it with a deficit-mindset of all the things that “could have been but are not” overlooks all the positive things that have emerged as a result of this powerful disruption. Long weeks are coming - make each day as good as it can be.