It was a Friday afternoon and I just received an email from my son’s 6th grade math teacher saying he had just missed his math exam. According to the teacher, he was logged in to class for virtual learning but didn’t respond to her messages regarding the midterm. I was dumbfounded as I had just checked in on him to make sure he was logged in and paying attention because of previous issues with his unsatisfactory engagement in class.
Turns out he went to the bathroom a few minutes after class began and spent more than half the class there. Later I would learn that he was watching Youtube videos on the toilet and when he returned to class everyone was silent so he just went about doing other work. After investigating his screen time, I discovered that he had been spending hours and hours every day on his phone both during and after school.
This discovery was troubling to say the least, and something needed to be done about it.
Impact of divorce on parenting
As a divorced father of a 13 year old girl and a 12 year old boy, I began to contemplate the impact Covid and its collateral consequences were having on my kids and children at large.
Being divorced means I don’t have as much time with my kids as their custodial parent. It also means that when I do have my kids, I may try a bit too hard to make up for lost time, cramming a years worth of parenting, mentoring, and habit development into a month or a 2 week vacation. I can attest firsthand that this is a recipe for disaster.
Most of my active learning nowadays revolves around the science of achievement, mental health, mindfulness and similar topics. This may be at the root of why I may try a bit too hard to ensure my kids are on the right path, but as any parent can attest, we all want our kids to be happy, healthy, and live a fulfilling life. That’s one of the reasons I volunteer my time to speak to elementary school students about mindfulness and its health benefits, and even lead them in meditation and movement as well as other flavors of zen.
Shelter in place
Since the shelter-in-place order in March of 2020, my kids like many other children throughout the world had been doing all their schooling virtually. At the same time, most if not all extra curricular activities had been stopped the moment the pandemic began.
I spent some time comparing how kids used to spend their time pre-pandemic, with how they now spend their time during the pandemic. Based on the recent shift to virtual learning I began to extrapolate what the continued effects on our kids would be, and the lasting impact of all these changes.
A spike in depression and other mental health issues
According to research done throughout the US and other countries, data shows that depression and anxiety are rising at alarming rates, more than tripling in a matter of months since the shelter in place order began March 2020.
This number only reflects those that have reported this change, often depression and other mental health issues go underreported by upwards of 50% due to the associated stigmas.
In addition, it is extremely difficult to diagnose it in kids living through a pandemic. How can you distinguish between being sad about not seeing friends or playing sports with the chronic medical condition leading to listlessness, melancholy, and reduced interest in life in general?
Mindfulness as part of modern curriculum
The more I explored the topic of mindfulness, the more I became convinced that we grew up with mindfulness activities as part of our day to day lives without ever knowing it.
Today, adults struggling with anxiety, depression, or various neuroses are encouraged to participate in activities that bring presence into their lives to better connect with their bodies in the present moment.
Some of these activities include art — like paint and sip get togethers or adult coloring books with mandala drawings — improv classes, exercise programs, socializing with friends, group sports, playing musical instruments amongst others.
As I thought about all these recommended activities that help adults cope with stress, anxiety, and to disconnect from their overthinking mind, I came to the realization that many of these activities are part and parcel of most elementary, middle, and high school programming. Or rather, they were.
This past year during the pandemic there were no extra curricular activities, sports were canceled, theater and drama was canceled, music was canceled and meals with friends now involved face masks and social distancing mixed with a health dose of fear mongering and hyper-paranoia.
Pre-pandemic, most of our children had been spending their days of learning coupled with a healthy dose of mindful activities like music, sports, art, and the like. However, since the pandemic mindfulness was no longer baked into their day to day lives as students.
The slippery slope of virtual learning
Instead of getting their education mixed with arts, sports and connection, they were instead replaced with screens, google classroom, distractions, and more blue light than you can shake a stick at.
My son who is normally a good student barely made it out of the 6th grade. All the fun parts of school like play and socializing had been unceremoniously stripped out of his experience and he had to fight tooth and nail (we the parents had to fight tooth and nail) to graduate and move on to 7th grade.
I would monitor my kids from time to time while they were in class online and many of them weren’t on camera, but instead were just sitting and listening as their teacher read through materials, much of the time, they were doing something in addition to their school work. Education had ceased to be an immersive and engaging experience and instead had turned into a Facebook live you put on in the background while cooking eggs.
“If it’s to be it’s up to me.” — William H Johnsen
What does this mean going forward and what can be done to overcome the deleterious effects that stripping out all these mindful activities that rejuvenate the mind and bring joy to our kid’s lives?
It means that now more than ever we need to be present to what our kids are doing by restricting certain apps and websites, setting phone time limits on each app, and also checking the reports from time to time. It also means that we get to figure out a way to engage with our kids in activities that are healthy for the mind, body, and spirit.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” — Gandhi
3 activities I have used to correct these issues
- Morning walks in nature — Connecting with nature is a great way to calm the mind for both kids and adults. I like to take a morning walk with the kids, without phones, where we talk about the upcoming day and things that we are looking forward to.
- Game nights — rather than letting the kids disappear into their rooms, or hide in the shadows mindlessly streaming Tik Tok, set aside one night a week to connect over a board game or other group activity that doesn’t involve screens. Board games are an amazing way to connect with your loved ones without distractions. They are an extremely fun and engaging way to spend time together, and us adults will notice how much we miss playing games and being more playful ourselves. Here we can learn a lot from our kids about being present and joyful.
- Group workouts — exercise has been proven to be a huge reliever of stress as well as increasing the feel good hormones that create positive experiences like dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. Working out as a family is a great way of being an example to our kids while engaging in something together that we take pride in. This will forge other good habits and behaviors, because as the saying goes, a rising tide floats all ships. Exercise together can easily be the rising tide that improves all other aspects of our lives. (If you need inspiration just throw on a Youtube workout video and follow along, depending on your kids age and baseline fitness these workouts can vary between 15–30 minutes.)
Today more than ever before, we as a society need to hold each other high while also practicing compassion. Compassion for our kids, our families, friends, neighbors, and of course, compassion for ourselves. We are living through trying times, the events going on in the world today are traumatizing for all of us both collectively and individually, and we will prevail. The only question becomes, will we be better off for it or worse? And the answer to that question lies in our hands as parents and the result of the choices we make.
This post was previously published on A Parent Is Born.
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