The world has always had difficult times. Thinking about the first half of the 20th century, for instance, we went from WWI to the 1918 flu pandemic to the Great Depression to WWII. That’s a lot.
The 24-hour News Cycle
Although families were obviously affected directly by the tragedies of the past, back then, if you weren’t affected directly, it was possible to compartmentalize them. Limiting your exposure was relatively simple: When you were done reading the newspaper, you were done getting the news. You could listen to the radio in the evening but be free of it the rest of the day. Even when television was ubiquitous starting in the 1960s, the news was for the most part limited to certain hours of the day: you could watch TV all the time, but your exposure to the news was still limited to the news shows. If you didn’t want your kids to be exposed, simply watching the 11PM news, after they went to bed, and not talking about the news in front of them took care of that problem.
Things aren’t so simple today, when we all, through our devices, are bombarded by the news 24/7. We literally can’t get away from it, and that includes our children. Once you give them a device, to a great extent you have given up any control you have over what they see. So they can watch ISIS behead a journalist or a police officer kill a Black man, or do research into how severe global climate change really is. As if that isn’t bad enough, there are all of the talking heads who so often appear on “news” shows and make things sound so much worse. It is easy for kids to get traumatized by these awful things, and there is very little you can do about it, short of taking your child’s phone away.
We thought that this recent article in Contemporary Pediatrics on cell phone use and its effects on very young children would be of interest to our readers.
We cannot emphasize enough that you need to turn your phones off when you are with your children, even very young children. If they are older, have your children turn their phones off, too, when you are spending time together.
Once your phone is off, engage with your kids. Give them your full attention. Make eye contact. Have meals together—with everyone’s phone turned off. Be fully present; your child’s mental health depends on it.
One explanation of why young children react in this way to distracted parents is here. This subject has also come up in our first few podcast episodes.
In an April 12, 2020, interview with MSNBC’s Stephanie Rule, New York Times columnist David Brooks said that the coronavirus was like “an x-ray on our society…we know ourselves better when you are in a valley. So I am hopeful that we’re going to have a great reset.”
When school started, I heard about several kids who went to college—very good colleges to which the students had happily anticipated going for months—and after only a few days, called their parents to pick them up and take them home.
I see this more and more. Some will go back to school. Others will sit in their parents’ basements playing video games, with their parents wringing their hands because they do not know what to do. This can go on for years, and failure-to-launch young adults make up a large part of my business.
What I find when I talk with these teens and 20-somethings are young people who have never faced adversity, are full of shame and doubt, and lack a sense of themselves or autonomy. When I talk with the parents, I find adults who thought they did everything right and are mystified about where things went wrong.
How did they get there? And, more importantly, how to get them past this? Read more
“Our own life has to be our message.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
The recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, terrible tragedy that it was, also ended up bringing to the fore something positive that is sorely lacking in many of today’s young people: a mission. Although I wish it weren’t mass shootings that were the reason, the way students around the world rallied around the cause of “no more school shootings” couldn’t have been a better demonstration of how kids are brought to life around a mission. Read more
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
I talk about making dreams come true a lot. That sounds so…frivolous, so hokey—so why do I keep saying it?
Because it is so important to kids’—and adults’—mental health, that’s why. Read more
I was working with a Division I hockey team when an assistant coach asked the D men to stand up. “Now, boys,” he said, “Sit down when I hit the right number. Ready? Hockey is 20% mental.”
No one sat.
He kept going: 60, 70, 80… at 90% his guys started to sit down.
The coach went on to say, “We spend 90 to 100% of our time on our bodies, lifting, conditioning; on our hockey skills, shooting, skating; and so on. But how much time do we spend on our mind and our emotions?” Read more
One thing I ask parents frequently is how much fun their family has. The reply is often that their child loves their organized athletics, or music, or whatever afterschool activity that their child does, and that is fun for their child.
It is true that some children love those activities. But some children don’t. They do them out of a sense of duty. They do it because their parents make them. Or they do them because it has been impressed on them, either consciously or unconsciously, that they have to do it to get into college—for their résumé, in other words. And many of them never tell their parents that they would rather not do them, or do them quite so much. When you have Outcome Fever, it becomes very hard for your kids to be honest with you.
But even if your child loves their extracurricular activity, that is different from plain fun. Unlike organized activities, fun has no responsibilities, such as practicing, attached. Most importantly, the fun I’m talking about has no outcomes attached. Read more
I was recently called in to help an anxious and depressed 11-year-old. When his mother ushered me into his room, I saw an overweight, sad-looking kid. I also saw a guitar and asked him if he played. He immediately brightened up, and we launched into a discussion about music. After a while, and with the expected coaxing, he picked up the guitar and started to play “Stairway to Heaven.” No, correct that: he CRUSHED the tune. When he was finished, he was able to tell me that he wowed everyone when he played it at his school talent show, and we were able to start a discussion about how he was able to do that: what gave him the confidence? And then we were off and running on what was bothering him and how to deal with it. Read more