With school and social lives moving online, parenting in the age of the internet can be a challenge, but checking in with your children about digital wellness and mental health is more important now than ever.
In the age of physical distancing, staying connected may be more important than ever before. Especially for youth. For parents, knowing when and how to check in with kids and adolescents about online safety and digital wellness isn’t always easy, but there are several ways families can work together to surf safely, stay connected and protect mental health.
69% of Canadians between ages 13-24 say the pandemic has had a negative or very negative impact on their mental health, according to a 2020 poll conducted by One Youth and UNICEF.1
86% are concerned about maintaining relationships with friends and loved ones.
The internet can offer young people places to learn, play and interact with friends; but for youth, it can also raise issues about body image, self-harm, cyberbullying and poor sleep. It’s important to note that screen time may have mental health drawbacks of its own.
Write some code
Coming up with a code of clear expectations for online activity may be helpful for both parents and kids navigating a new, virtual reality. For younger children, rules could be as simple as “No devices at dinner” or “Parental supervision required.” For older kids and teens on social media, parents may want to put limits in place to protect personal information, passwords and photos.
P.S. Boundaries can be good for everyone. When your 12-year-old begs you to take down that silly video of her first dance recital, it might be time to listen. Looking for ideas for your family’s online safety rules? The Canadian Safety Council has examples to help you.
Know the signs of cyberbullying
Chat features on games and social media can help kids find friends—and sometimes, bullies. One-fifth of bullying now occurs through social media, according to data collected between 2018-2020.2
If your child becomes secretive about their internet activity, deletes accounts or avoids using once-beloved devices altogether, there could be something happening online. Letting your child know they can talk to you—judgment-free—about their social (media) life could be a great way to start.
Develop a digital dialogue
Socializing on a screen isn’t quite the same as hanging out with old friends at school. Familiarizing yourself with the games, services and apps your child is enjoying can clue you in on what media they’re consuming, which privacy controls are in place and how they communicate. Keep tabs on where and with whom your child is spending time online. Ask questions. Show an interest. Learn the lingo. It may even help you bond. A mom might score major points for knowing the difference between a Creeper and a Cave Spider in Minecraft.
Put devices to bed early
Turning out the (blue) light before bed to listen to some relaxing music, read a book, or a guided meditation might be a better way than gaming to wind down. If your kiddo is too cool for ocean sounds and yoga, consider a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses or an app to keep that circadian rhythm on the beat.
Why? Playing just one more round of “Candy Crush” before lights out might be fun for kids (and grownups), but it could impact the duration and quality of sleep.3
Get in some real face time
With school, work and social lives largely relegated to screens, young people (and parents!) may benefit from a little face-to-face interaction. After living the quarantine life, you and your child might feel like you’ve had enough time together, but sitting down for a family meal, grabbing a cup of coffee, engaging in some endorphin-boosting athletics or walking the family dog can be great ways to get intentional about unplugging and checking in with each other.
Make help available
Growing up isn’t always easy. During a pandemic, children and adolescents may face a unique set of challenges. Notice any sudden changes in mood or behavior, appetite or sleep? It may be time to talk with your child about professional support. Arming them with a list of youth-friendly resources, such as these from RBC Future Launch, may remind them that help is out there if they need it.
In Canada, nearly 100 percent of youth aged 15 to 24 use the internet or their smartphone daily, according to a 2019 report from Statistics Canada. With so much of life being lived online, it may be more important now than ever for children and parents to stay connected, talk about digital wellness and prioritize mental health.
Warning signs that you should seek professional psychological help
According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, “Unlike other health conditions, only one in three people who experience a mental health problem or illness report that they have sought and received services and treatment.”
According to MentalHealth.gov, pay attention if you experience:
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing from your usual social outlets or relationships
- Feeling listless, numb, helpless or hopeless
- An increase in smoking, drinking or taking drugs
- Mood swings, irritability or uncontrolled anger
- Anxiety or depression
- Urges to self-harm
- Inability to perform daily tasks
1. Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Young People in Canada. U-REPORT CANADA. Unicef Canada and One Youth. May 2020.
2. Cyberbullying facts and statistics for 2020. Comparitech Limited. November 11, 2020.
3. Blue light has a dark side. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. July 7, 2020.
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