By: Mrt. Psic.CL. Tamara Toledo E. (Translated by Jessica Schwartzman)
Life changed completely at the start of 2020 when COVID-19 hit our country. All the changes we have made to avoid infection and protect our health have touched us in various ways, from the drastic ones like lockdowns to the more mundane improvements of personal hygiene .
Everyone, of all ages and backgrounds, has resented and perhaps continues to “resent” the effects and consequences of this global pandemic.
We have given up so much of our lives: our daily routines, our schedules, jobs, friendships, our “freedom.” It is enough to cause overwhelming disappointment, despite an understanding that such measures are necessary. Surely, at some moment during these last several months, nearly everyone has felt short tempered, hopeless, apathetic, wanting to throw in the towel, etc. After all, we are living, or at least “surviving,” in this new reality, which threatens to not leave us for a long time.
You ask, “And what does this have to do with raising kids?”
Well, it’s that adults forget what it’s like to be younger (kids or teens) and, when they become parents, become either extremely lax or strict. Of course, neither extreme is healthy.
However, it seems like the adults haven’t considered the atmosphere of this environment and its major impact on the personal, emotional, psychological, and social lives of our children. I ask myself “Have these kids not also given up their own lives?” Their school, their friends, their crushes, going to parties, their favorite sport, their graduation, birthday parties, the freedom to grow up, and all the other things typical of these ages, things we have all gone through.
As a mental health professional, I would, in this blog, like to ask the reader to try an exercise: Imagine you are the same age as your kids are now.
Okay, I want you to remember what you were like. What did you do?
How did you have fun?
How did you act around your parents?
As you continue this trip down memory lane, I ask you to come back to the present, imagining yourself at that age, but living amidst lockdowns for seven months and counting.
Please, answer honestly, how do you feel? If you do this exercise well, I assure you that you will be able to empathize with and begin to understand the feelings of your kids.
When we relive our youth and adolescence, it becomes clear that the world was different back then and that we can’t pretend to raise our kids like we were raised.
Good values never go out of style, but we can’t hope to perpetuate a parenting style that probably wasn’t the best for us either. Parenting in this new era is challenging, and we are obligated to educate ourselves, read, learn, and most importantly, better ourselves.
The intention of the earlier exercise isn’t to “justify” teenagers’ attitudes, something that is typical of physical, hormonal, and psychological development at the age of puberty; we should remember that this too shall pass. Nor am I suggesting encouraging the lack of collaboration and interaction that many of them have in the house, both of which are significantly impaired by the norms of the digital age.
The goal of this space is for mature adults to reach out to their kids responsibly, but more importantly, with kindness. It’s important to note that the rates of poor mental health in kids and youths is tragically high.
What is happening?
Health professionals are being consulted on a wide variety of disorders, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive behaviors, addiction to social media or video games, and more. Children and adolescents are more vulnerable due to being neurologically immature (their brains are biologically immature), and because they don’t have the capacity or resources for it, they are unable to process or manage on their own the psycho-emotional impact of what they are experiencing.
Our kids and teens need us now more than ever because, despite the stay-at-home orders, they currently are and feel more alone, making them more vulnerable to chaos, fear, and uncertainty. On social media and the internet, there is no lack of people who take advantage of the opportunity to “fish in troubled waters.”
Careful with the internet!!!
It’s enough to see the alarming statistics about how kidnappings, rape, blackmail, cyberbullying, sexual blackmail (“grooming”), and child pornography have increased around the world. Sadly, Ecuador is no exception. If we can’t remove our kids from this digital reality, we should work each day to create and maintain trusting relationships with them, creating opportunities for dialogue where we can inform them of the responsibilities and dangers of social media and supervise the content that they post and receive. This would include the creation of channels of open communication where kids aren’t afraid to tell us if someone is sending them photos of their private parts, if someone is threatening them, or if they are in a situation that frightens them.
In the same way, it’s this respectful and assertive dialogue, with the trust and openness it builds, that allows kids to say how they are feeling each day: Has the sadness overwhelmed them? Do they feel they need help from a professional? Have they thought about harming themselves? Does the fear paralyze them? Etcetera. If kids don’t feel that they can express dark and difficult thoughts and feelings with the adults they trust (or their mentors), then who can they express them to?
If kids don’t feel like they can express dark and difficult sentiments and thoughts with the adults they trust (or their mentors), when who can they express them to?
And it’s there, dear reader, where we as adults allow a gulf to grow between us and them, where we have allowed parenting to become “comfortable” and not a priority in our lives.
Remember that they depend on us until they develop the ability to manage maturely on their own. There is a saying “Kids are our mirror,” and nothing is more true. So, I ask you this: When your child looks at you, what do they see? How can you ask them to not scream or be a “brat” when perhaps you or your partner only express yourselves like this around the house? Is your kid hermetically sealed so that they don’t absorb anything? Perhaps, when they told you something important you didn’t pay attention, downplayed its importance or criticized them. How does this reflect on you?
Regarding addiction to screens, like any other addiction, the principle is the same and it originates primarily from a lack of affection, which at these ages primarily comes from the home and their most important relationships (parents, siblings)
Give your kids reasons to stay in the real world, instead of burying their head in the sand by spending time in the “virtual” world. Of course, it’s also a good idea to put limits on the use of devices and restrict them from having social media accounts that they are not responsible enough to manage.
Dear reader, the world is already difficult enough for everyone. Don’t turn your family and home into a battlefield! Make it a secure place (despite the problems all families have), the type of place you would have wanted during your own youth and adolescence.
Let us work on having homes where the kids are confident that their parents love them unconditionally, even if it involves disagreement and accepting a consequence or reprimand. It is important that kids know for a fact that they are loved, valued and accepted.
Family requires a collaborative effort, one which we are all involved in and part of. If we as adults create an environment of belonging, welcoming, and clear rules, then kids will respond positively to their parents. Considerate, positive parenting is based on respect (which promotes agreement, consideration of parents, harmonious relationships, feeling responsible for one’s obligations, etc.), not fear (which promotes rejection, rebelliousness, aggressiveness, lack of respect for authority, defiant attitude towards parents, avoiding responsibilities, etc.)
It all depends on which you choose.