As technology continues to play a big role in our lives and our children’s lives, how can we protect their mental well-being online?
Since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, our relationship with technology has evolved. In a time of uncertainty and social isolation, technology has provided a sense of normality and structure for many. From work, school, entertainment, and bonding with friends and family, we’re all online all the time.
During the pandemic, like many parents, I have been tasked with working from home and caring for my teenager. When I saw that not only me, but also my child’s use of the Internet increased, I realized that parenting has changed. I’ve seen my family’s technology use shift into new areas—early in the morning or at the dinner table, or how we all watch something on different devices instead of a shared TV program—and what we’ve been doing without him has begun to be felt. like withdrawal. While parenting has always been a juggling act, now with technology it’s becoming more impossible to manage a healthy balance.
So, as we move into 2023 and inch closer to “normal,” the questions linger: How is this continued increase in technology use affecting young people’s mental health? And how can parents best equip themselves to intervene?
To better understand family and youth Internet use during the pandemic, researchers at the Child Mind Institute, a member of the Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children’s Mental Health, which I lead, surveyed more than 1,000 US parents in a national multi-site survey. Children from 9 to 15 years old. The most recent review reviewed reviews from July 21 to August 17, 2022. The goal? To understand parental attitudes toward Internet use, family use patterns, and potential risks that may contribute to what is known as problematic Internet use (PIU), defined as Internet use habits in children that negatively impact someone’s quality of life.
Mood swings, inattention, and disconnection are common with PIU. Other symptoms include substance abuse, loss of sleep or interest in relationships or activities, neglecting schoolwork, going online to avoid unpleasant feelings, and acting out when internet time is limited.
The survey also sheds light on several positive outcomes of internet use during the pandemic. For example, almost half (46%) of parent respondents said the Internet has increased communication within their nuclear families, and more than half (56%) of respondents said the Internet has increased communication with their extended families.
However, parents were aware of the risk of internet use. Most parents (77%) agreed that children can become addicted to the internet and were concerned about issues such as online violence (53%) and the content available to their children (67%).
In addition, nearly one-third (32%) of parents reported that they are often distracted from the Internet while spending time with their children. As a working mom myself, this is something I have had to deal with in my own behavior. When email pings during family time, I find myself drifting away from the conversation and thinking, “Maybe I should check that out.” It’s a byproduct of our home lives and home offices bleeding into each other throughout the pandemic — and one I’m actively trying to fix. By setting healthy boundaries, I can be there for my child and be a role model for how he can begin to prioritize his own mental well-being, even as a teenager.
How can parents react to such information? While reducing internet usage and technology time may seem like an easy solution, it’s not always a realistic approach to the current state of our world. It should be noted that 59% of parents said that they allow more internet use during the pandemic.
However, the mental health crisis among young people is growing, and it is becoming clear that problematic internet use is one of many causes. We must work together to help and protect our children, especially in cyberspace.
But there is a silver lining: most parents (82%) feel comfortable talking to their children about internet use. I encourage all parents to talk to their children about online safety, both physically and emotionally.
There are several ways parents and carers can do this:
- Observe: You know your child best. Watch out for extreme mood and behavior changes. For example, is your child very talkative, but now you can’t get a word out of them? They are usually more reserved and now they are angry? Isn’t their school performance extraordinary? Are there changes in appetite or sleep patterns? Look, note the patterns, and listen to your gut if you feel something isn’t right.
- To talk: Be proactive in talking to your child about mental health. Validate their emotions and remind them that difficult feelings are normal. Give them space to express themselves in a non-judgmental environment and let them know it’s okay to not be okay.
- Model good habits: Making time and space for your own needs is an important part of meeting the needs of your children. When your child sees you actively taking care of himself, he learns to do the same. Talk about how technology can affect your mental health and show them how you create boundaries in your own life.
- Build a community: As a parent or caregiver, it is important to create a support system for your child. Whether it’s another family member, their teacher, or your neighbor, they can help your child recognize signs of mental health problems or serve as another adult figure in their world. Make sure your child feels safe with these people and encourage them to reach out if they need extra support, especially when you’re not around.
- Monitor and Talk – Again: Check in with your child regularly – not just when something is wrong – and make sure he knows who to turn to if he’s having trouble. It can also help reinforce that this is an ongoing process rather than a one-off.
Technology and internet usage will continue to be a part of our daily lives. By understanding our children’s mental and emotional well-being and equipping them with the tools to use the internet safely, we can create a brighter future for the next generation.
If you are concerned that a child or youth is in immediate danger of self-harm (and especially if the student is talking about suicide), follow your mandatory reporting guidelines and call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. .