If I’ve learned anything from the past 18 months of COVID living, it’s the importance of being adaptable and self-aware. Just when I think we’ve turned a corner, another pot hole (or sink hole) appears in the road. It’s been frustrating to say the least, but it’s also reminded me of the need to be mindful of the things we can change and those we cannot. I try to save my energy for actions that will bring positive results, and deeply breathe my way through moments when emotions run high, provoked by things like nightly news reports, whiplash inducing changes in school health guidelines, or the large flock of Canada geese currently desecrating our sports field.
Mental fatigue, frustration, anxiety, fear, anger – all these things are swirling about us these days, if not in our own heads then most assuredly in the heads of people we encounter in line ups at the grocery store, waiting for take-out orders at restaurants, or even outside hospitals where the right to protest is butting heads with consideration for patients and healthcare workers. It’s a lot to handle, even for adults.
Our children learn from us. They watch us intently, looking for guidance in learning to navigate life with all its unknowns. Our behaviours, our actions (and reactions), that nanosecond of delay as we consider whether the inside-our-head thought should really be said out loud, children absorb all this data like a sponge soaks up water.
We are the keepers of the sponge, so to speak, contributing to the ecosystem that surrounds these delicate little organisms. Educators and parents are bound together in a shared responsibility to support children through these difficult times just as we try to support ourselves. It’s not easy right now, and increasingly we’re seeing the pandemic’s impact on our children’s well-being.
Mental health and wellness was a much talked about topic as schools prepared to return. Levels of anxiety and depression that rose amongst children and adolescents at the beginning of the pandemic remain heightened according to The Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids). Findings from a recent study showed, “a strong association between time spent online learning and depression and anxiety in school-age children (six to 18-years-old).” Most important was a direct correlation found between the amount of time spent online and the extent of symptoms of depression and anxiety children and teens reported.
COVID has shown us the value of technology but it’s also revealed even more dramatically the dark side. This is nothing we didn’t already know. A report published in The Wall Street Journal this week revealed that Facebook’s own research from 2019 showed the negative impact of Instagram on girls’ mental health. According to the WSJ article, an internal Facebook presentation on the research included the following findings:
- “We [Instagram] make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.”
- “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”
- “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.”
- “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.”
COVID didn’t suddenly make social media harmful for kids. It’s always been that way. But the impact of COVID on our day-to-day life has certainly caused the social media problem to grow. COVID drastically altered the ecosystem in which students learn and live in ways that exacerbate the negative impact of technology. Like the virus, the opportunistic nature of social media took advantage of weaknesses in its host. More time at home, more time online, more time connecting virtually, and more time feeling (and being) isolated. It was and remains the perfect storm. We’ve long known the dangers of technology on children, but the sheer magnitude of the damage done in the past 18 months is unprecedented and impossible to ignore.
What can parents do to help? First and foremost, monitor your daughter’s online usage. Ban phones from the dinner table and insist they’re charged overnight in the kitchen and never left in the bedroom. (That goes for the laptop and the iPad, too). Leave the technology at home when you go for a walk. Watch a movie together without anyone pausing to read or return a text. Have a conversation that isn’t interrupted by a ringtone. And most of all, be mindful of the sponge watching you from across the room, absorbing everything she sees.
We’re back to in-person learning at the Castle, at least for now, and the importance of that human connection has never felt so obvious. Although COVID protocols remain in place and some things happen online out of necessity, we’ve brought back a few touchstones that provide a sense of near-normalcy and comfort. Access to lockers, hanging out in the Common Room on a spare, doing homework after school in the Loggia, field hockey tryouts, and a carefully staged return to lunch in the Dining Hall (initially, for a few grades). The difference it’s making is palpable. There’s lightness and laughter in the halls, even though we’re still stifled by the threat of the Delta variant’s transmissibility.
I continue to believe strongly that we at Trafalgar are blessed as a community. Despite everything we’ve gone through, we’ve remained united in spirit. Coming together in person this fall is an even greater blessing and one that we hope continues throughout the year. Please join us in helping our children push back against the encroachment of technology. Model, monitor and most of all, be mindful!