Solutions for “how to parent better” are coming at caregivers a mile a minute, adding more noise to the already-overwhelming challenge of raising children during COVID-19. In this Action Network Live! event, Nina Hersher of the Digital Wellness Collective and CCFC Board member Dr. Criscillia Benford offered some tools for building – and keeping – our confidence as parents and caregivers as near-constant waves of information barrel over us.
To hear their conversation and all of their wonderful suggestions, you can – and should! – watch the whole webinar here. Below, we offer a list of some of our favorite takeaways (there were so many)!
Find the boundaries that work for your family.
While we’re all stuck at home, it’s easy for the lines between work, school, socializing, and rest to become blurred beyond recognition. Keeping clear boundaries between different parts of our lives is important for our wellbeing. Nina offered the suggestion of dedicating 30 minutes each day to device-free time where you meaningfully connect with others or enjoy some time spent alone. Or, she says, create an unplugged box, screen-free sleeve, or central charging station where everyone in your home leaves their electronics for a set time. Adults can model a healthy relationship to tech to kids by unplugging after logging off from work and focusing on meaningful time spent together.
As you’re exploring structures and boundaries, remember that not every person or family benefits from the exact same tips and routines. For some, getting up and going to bed at the same time every day might be an especially comforting routine. For others, it might be simpler, like a set break for some family time during the day. “It’s any structure,” Crisi told us. “You could say, ‘I’m always going to eat one cookie with my kid at 2 PM each day.’ It could be that simple!” The point isn’t to structure every minute of every day – rather, you should find what small rituals help your family feel better in these uncertain times.
Realize that your relationship to tech has changed.
Remember six months ago, when losing yourself in an episode of prestige TV was a blissful thing you looked forward to? Have you noticed that that just…doesn’t work anymore? Turns out, that’s normal! “Part of it is the similarity between Netflix and Zoom,” Crisi told us. “There is something fatiguing about just looking at flat faces as opposed to real, three-dimensional faces.” After a day full of video calls, more videos just don’t feel good.
Crisi also reminded us that the effects of persuasive design are probably more intense than ever on our – and our kids’ – emotions right now. Social media platforms and news sites are designed to keep us online and “engaged” as long as possible, not to support our comfort, wellbeing, relationships, or even our understanding of what’s actually going on in the world. (As Nina put it, “a phone is now a computer – and a rabbit hole!”) If you’re finding yourself worn out, take a minute to check in with your feelings, and encourage your family to do the same. Crisi suggests jotting down some notes about how particular apps make you feel, like after ten minutes of Twitter I felt super annoyed. “You’ll probably notice that things you used to like, you don’t like so much anymore,” she says.
Try new things, even when you’re not sure they’ll “work.”
“Right now, we’re taking in a lot of advice,” said Crisi, “and we need to figure out what advice we’re going to use — what’s actually working for us.” That means experimenting, being flexible, paying attention, and not worrying about failure. (Crisi calls this “design thinking,” but we just think it’s a good way to be!)
For example, if you’re trying out a new workspace to help you keep work time separate from family time, but after three days you’re getting constantly interrupted by kiddos asking school questions or for activity ideas, try putting a sign on the door that says, “Knock three times if you have a school question.” If that still doesn’t work, try something else! The key is to be flexible, iterative, and keeping moving toward your goal – each change you make, whether it works or not, teaches you something about how to get to where you’re going. By modelling intention, curiosity, and problem-solving in this way for your kids, you’re helping them develop those skills for themselves!
Find space for solitude and reflection.
All of these suggestions are big on self-reflection, and it’s pretty hard to reflect when you’re always with other people. That’s why solitude is so important, even when it feels hard! Finding solitude might look like taking a long shower while your partner plays with the kids, or it might look like going for a walk while your baby sleeps in the stroller. Whatever it looks like, find it and take it where you can!
To build in time for reflection, Crisi suggests keeping a simple journal. It doesn’t have to be insightful or complicated; even just writing a short summary of your day can give you space for introspection and, says Crisi, “really contribute to peace of mind.” This is an especially fruitful activity for kids and teens who are tech-focused. Encourage your kids to consider and write about what they like about tech, what they dislike about it, and what they would change about it if they had the power to. Even if they don’t share their thoughts with you, a simple exercise like this gives them space to reflect and grow.
You can even take it a step further and make a communication charter with every member of the family, says Nina, setting expectations for your household’s tech habits. With the insight they gain from reflecting on tech, kids feel more empowered to participate in a family conversation on tech limits and boundaries in your household. For example, a kid might say, “I would really love if Mom would tell me why she needs to use her phone during dinner if she really needs to check it.” By involving every family member, communication charters help to build trust, transparency, and accountability in your household’s tech habits.
This resource is part of our series on navigating the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Social Distancing as a Family: Screen Time Strategies and Resources for Parents of Children under 6
- Social Distancing as a Family: Screen Time Strategies and Resources for Parents of Children 6-12
- Social Distancing for Early Childhood Educators
Action Network Live! is a project of CCFC’s Children’s Screen Time Action Network, and brings together experts, parents, and caregivers to talk about critical issues around kids and technology. Learn more about joining the Network, or sign up for our email list to be notified about upcoming events!