I “attended” an educational conference this weekend -- virtually, of course, due to the pandemic. I was online all day on Saturday and Sunday. By the end of each day, I was totally exhausted. The teaching was excellent, but constantly paying attention to a screen was difficult, as was completing all of the online assignments that were required. And I have to admit, finding the assignments on the website, downloading them, and then uploading the completed documents into another file was a real challenge to my organization skills. The whole process left me tired and drained.
The whole experience really made me think: If I, a physician and mom, was drained by the online sessions and experienced challenges finding, completing, and uploading work, where does that leave our kids? Many of them have been keeping this type of pace with online school for 2 months now!
There is no doubt that online school has been not only stressful on parents, but on kids too. Attending to school on a laptop or computer all day is hard. Paying attention and having the organization takes executive functioning skills that many kids don’t develop until their late teens. Add to that the lack of structure -- no “get ready for school” routine, no organized mealtimes, and no afterschool help -- and it becomes a bigger problem. Some families don’t have the luxury of a laptop for every child, or even extra food to compensate for the school lunches that have been missed. Hungry kids can’t focus, so that is an additional challenge.
And then there is the issue of the lack of socialization. Schools being online and most activities being canceled means less socialization, less interaction with friends, and less peer support. Social isolation can contribute to mental health issues like anxiety and depression, and the constant bad news about the pandemic and other issues makes things worse. In fact, a recent APA survey of older gen Z (ages 18-23) showed that 7 out of 10 are depressed. And 50% of teens felt uncertain about their future. Depression, anxiety, and chronic stress mean even less focus and less ability to multitask, which becomes a vicious cycle. Our kids and we, as parents, are in a tough time. Period.
So what can we do as we navigate these challenges?
- Give your kids a break. This is not the time to expect straight A’s or B’s -- this is not a normal academic year. Our kids are faced with far more hurdles than usual. Instead, be there for them, show that you understand that these are difficult circumstances, have conversations about the news and COVID-19, and try to arrange virtual or outdoor playdates is its safe. What they need right now is support and hugs.
- Communicate with the school. The schools are having a difficult time too, as they are in uncharted waters. My daughter’s school had unrealistic expectations about assignments and tests, so I spoke to them about what we could do to help my daughter complete the assignments, and also about how they might be able to lower their expectations as well. Speaking with your child’s school can help -- teamwork between parents and schools is more important now than ever.
- Give yourself a break. It’s a really tough time for parents as well. That’s why you need to take time for yourself. Schedule just 30 minutes for yourself every day and take a walk, or go to another room to relax. Take care of your health and sleep. If you are strong, the rest of the family will do better.
And remember, this is temporary. Someday these challenges will be behind us. We have gone through many tough situations in the past -- whether it was a postwar nation, or a post 9/11 nation -- and we have come out shining on the other side. We just need to focus on taking care of ourselves, our families, and others.