Childhood in an anxious age
December 17, 2020 8:27 AM   Subscribe

But how do you prepare a child for life in an uncertain time—one far more psychologically taxing than the late-20th-century world into which you were born? To protect children from physical harm, we buy car seats, we childproof, we teach them to swim, we hover. How, though, do you inoculate a child against future anguish? For that matter, what do you do if your child seems overwhelmed by life in the here and now? Too many kids show worrying signs of fragility from a very young age. Here’s what we can do about it. (The Atlantic) Related: How to help kids build resilience amid COVID-19 chaos (PBS); Five Ways To Boost Resilience In Children (BPS Research Digest); How Parents Can Help Children of the Pandemic Cope (Discover metered paywall); How To Help Your Kids Reframe Their Anxiety (NPR)
posted by not_the_water (43 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was thinking the other day about how long 9 months is in the life of a small child. They've spent a big part of their life in the social isolation of COVID-19.

An online friend of mine posted that her pre-school age child said "I wish I could have real friends", and she was kind of ruined by that for the day.

I do not have kids. But man, it must be very, very hard now. So many aspects. How do 5 year olds manage the IT obligations of online learning? Someone has to help them every step of the way, at home, that's how. (Guess who that person probably is....). Fragility - there is real danger now, every day, so you have to teach them about the pandemic, and about what to do to be safer. But it probably also can be psychologically harmful (for everyone, adults too) to spend a long time having to look at other people and public activity mostly as a threat of infection.
posted by thelonius at 8:48 AM on December 17, 2020 [14 favorites]


Thanks, this is something I have worked on always with my kid - always - and I am super glad to have additional resources.

As I anticipated, I am seeing a lot of references to the value of strong attachment to a consistently responsive adult, the benefits of structure and predictability and routine. One really needs to lean on the mantra - "They aren't giving you a hard time, they are having a hard time." But that makes me worry so much about the kids who have the double whammy of stressful environments, ACEs and lacking that protective adult for various reasons including the adult needing to work 3 different jobs to make ends meet, maybe having their own mental health challenges, and many other facets.

We've done pretty well so far - I remember being so proud, early in Covid, when kid chose to keep a positive perspective about the fact that he couldn't have friends over for a birthday party by emphasizing the birthday party activities we could still do as a family. One of the constant refrains from me to him as been look for what we CAN do, is there a way we can shift our perspective, etc. Setting up a schedule we have tried to keep consistent - and that is part of while we declined Zoom school since it would undermine our ability to have parent-child time together.

Lately it's been MUCH harder, after a summer where some activities were reasonable, having them taken away again has produced much more distress than it did in April. He feels I am always working, never want to play with him. Meanwhile I am spending a lot of time away from work, making lunch, teaching homeschool and yes playing. But it's never 'enough.' But of course I am his only playmate (Dad is noticing this and starting to jump in more, but has never played much with kid). All of this of course, is increased stress on me and reduced capacity for self-care. Winter is interfering with our most common self-care hobbies. Kid is shrieking at me a lot, increasingly frustrated, short tempered .... but also himself, who after storming away from the dinner table later asked me to "speak privately" and apologized for that. And of course was hugged, understood, actively listened to, etc. But still ... more frustration and anger the next day.

I love the NPR article - we do many of these things but we can find ways to dig back into them now. Really, not_the_water, your comprehensive post could not have come at a more needed time for me.
posted by MustangMamaVE at 8:58 AM on December 17, 2020 [24 favorites]


Our (soon to be 3-year-old) granddaughter hasn't been allowed onto a public playground (her parents' decision) since the pandemic started, including the neighborhood playground just around the corner from us. She seems to take it in stride, though her parents finally decided to get her a small backyard playset of her own over the summer. Needless to say, she was very excited.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:10 AM on December 17, 2020 [2 favorites]


NGL and I am not a modern evolutionary psychologist but aren't children supposed to be "fragile"? They literally are biologically wired to be dependent on their parents until physical and mental maturity like most other mammals, and yet we're the only ones that force our offpspring to basically go fend for themselves and somehow be ok with it. We're also pack animals biologically, which means we're wired to be interdependent on our closest groups, and we continue to force ourselves to be more and more "resilient" and independent which leads to, you guessed it, more cases of and variations of anxiety and depression. I really don't understand why people don't see that modern society goes against our evolution and that there is very little parenting experimentation and whatever can do about it.
posted by Young Kullervo at 9:39 AM on December 17, 2020 [23 favorites]


>wired to be dependent on their parents until physical and mental maturity
>force our offpspring to basically go fend for themselves and somehow be ok with it.
>force ourselves to be more and more "resilient" and independent which leads to,


It sounds like you are thinking about the old-school approach of "stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about" which imo calls itself resiliency-building but is in fact not. You know, the idea of ignoring kids' emotions, mental health needs, etc. with the idea that you "extinguish" the needs (when in fact all you do is extinguish the coping skills). So if you are talking about that kind of approach, of a sink or swim force our kids to deal with stressors so they learn not to be whiny babies, type of thing, I totally agree with you. I am glad to have another way, to build resiliency gradually and with a lot of parental support and guidance recognizing that a child's best and first source of self-regulation is co-regulation with a well-regulated parent who models the skills.
posted by MustangMamaVE at 9:57 AM on December 17, 2020 [4 favorites]


Well, I suppose my point was not so much that people are bad parents in general or going against biology but rather, that at least in the U.S., capitalism doesn't really allow most people to be the sort of parents most children need to become thriving, resilient people. Even if you try to master a specific technique, most people are not supported in the way you should be by employers, the community, or the government. There are many gaps, and it is often left to the child to adapt to those gaps when they are not mentally or physically able.

It's like there is this whole notion that this sort of chaos is just somehow normal or couldn't be controlled by those in power and the burden of adapting and lessening the mental blow to our offspring is totally on the parents. "Sorry we let the world crumble. Sorry the future is fucked and your offspring will have to compete heavily to survive. Here's $600 dollars to get you through the year and also maybe change your parental style so your kid isn't fucked up from all this." It's...ridiculous. The individual cannot be a society, but we're expected to be.
posted by Young Kullervo at 10:13 AM on December 17, 2020 [27 favorites]


Early in the pandemic my then-3-year-old used to cry because she loved going along to the grocery store or Target, and wasn't allowed to anymore.

My now-4-year-old basically doesn't remember stores anymore.

I have now been stuck in a house with my children for longer than it took to gestate them in the first place. We have literally had more togetherness than when they were in IN MY DANG UTERUS. Humans are not meant to be so isolated for so long, it's hard. Humans need allomothers to get by.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:23 AM on December 17, 2020 [23 favorites]


So first, what's our goal here? To reduce anxiety in children? To build resilience? To prevent future additions and suicides?

Those are goals that are aligned but they aren't like, all the same. For example, building resilience sometimes means coping with anxiety for at least a brief period of time, not reducing it (in the moment.)

Societally, we know that what Young Kullvero said is really important. Probably the most important. Kids need food security, housing security, public and free education, and parents who can engage with them rather than being sick, addicted, or working 3 jobs to pay the rent. In that context, talking about resilience on an individual or family level can be and is weaponized against marginalized communities who are economically disenfranchised while being handed lessons in making sure their kids do their homework.

On a human and family level we know kids need caring and connected adults, preferably more than one (but one will often do) who are consistently in their lives and consistently helping them with their needs. And we need communities that support that and form their own webs of connection among parents and other adults.

And then on top of that we know that kids individually do even better when their parents model resilience, or the skills for resilience - positive self-talk, narrative that recognizes struggle and the possibility of changing circumstances, focus on strengths, emotional literacy, get exercise, learn media literacy, talk about social media etc. as the fake front it is. etc. etc. etc.

We also know that kids need a certain amount of difficulty - the blessing of a skinned knee etc. - in a safety-net environment in order to learn to meet challenges, but also to walk back from anxiety about the unknown. It's kind of like if you get lost a few times you learn how to get help/get home, but if you've never been lost Being Lost is The Worst.

With that rant out of the way I think the question of how do you help your kids in a global pandemic to not end up overwhelmed is that you - try.

You love them, listen to them, be real with them, shield them from videos about how all the adults in some families have died and the kids are orphans, and if they find that video online, you remind them they love their guardians and their guardians' kids and dog and that your will is up to date.

I mean what do we want parents to do, find The One Cool Trick that will help our kids rebuild the economy? God I hate the current parenting culture where if you just have the research your kid will never have any issues, you know, if they receive the right therapy between 32 weeks and 36 weeks they will have great speaking skills forever.

Some of our kids are developing mental health issues. Some of our children will come out of this with anxiety. They will need support! Good support! From everyone. Parent, healthcare, and community support.

Meanwhile my introvert child has had a window into a better universe through this pause in his movement through a world designed for extroverts. It's complicated.

There is no one cool trick to resilience, or even 5. And I'm not even sure focusing on resilience is a great way to go...like...resilience itself kind of teaches us that maybe we should be focusing on the amazing, amazing job the world is doing overall instead of the anxiety disorders to come.

1. Most of the world shut down; imagine the toll if no one had.
2. Communication worldwide has been ace.
3. Like the outdoor schooling system in the 1918 flu, all around the world educational systems have fought to deliver education whether outdoors, in small classes, online, or through informal networks. Have we left kids behind? YES. Could we do better? PROBABLY. Have boards and teachers just ignored it and not been careful professionals trying their best? NO. They rule.
4. Past science and current science have developed what looks to be an effective vaccine in under one year and it may be distributed in another. That's amazing!

5....it's okay parents, hug your kids and enjoy an audiobook and some frozen pizza.

I say that as someone whose ACE score is super high and who has lost a child who will never have a mental health problem because she is dead, yet who is really resilient and has a good life. My youngest child has had way too much screen time and after he can do all the other things we will definitely be planning some serious detoxing and in the meantime I spend at least 15 minutes a day deconstructing YouTube economics. I probably have that completely wrong and if so, I will need to pay for his therapy.

But it's okay not to maximize this global pandemic. For me anyway because I can eat. We need to make sure all our people can eat.

Sorry for the rant man.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:23 AM on December 17, 2020 [28 favorites]


Gotcha and agree totally - for example the number of families who have to have 2 working parents working multiple jobs, can't afford childcare, child is shuffled from neighbor to grandma, and as much as that family may want to make the child the priority, putting food on the table is higher on maslow's pyramid than is you know, co-regulating and nurturing healthy attachment. And yeah this isn't an inherent humanity problem, it's a social structure problem we could change.
posted by MustangMamaVE at 10:24 AM on December 17, 2020


How do 5 year olds manage the IT obligations of online learning?

Perhaps this will cause people to look at the entire K-12 system and figure out how much of it is really necessary, but that's another discussion.
posted by Melismata at 10:24 AM on December 17, 2020 [7 favorites]


NGL and I am not a modern evolutionary psychologist but aren't children supposed to be "fragile"? They literally are biologically wired to be dependent on their parents until physical and mental maturity like most other mammals, and yet we're the only ones that force our offpspring to basically go fend for themselves and somehow be ok with it.

Kids are fragile to a point. I mean, it'd be a bad idea to expect your kid to be able to bench-press 100 pounds or to negotiate for a car loan. The problem comes in when kids are protected from every possible hardship or difficulty - sometimes messing around and doing stuff is how kids learn.

I've seen several articles like this, and about the notion of "free range kids" - where you gradually trust your kid with a little more independence and self-sufficiency as they get older, and let them come up with ideas for something to do. Like, instead of setting up scheduled play dates with another kid's parent for them, you let them loose to decide whether they wanna hang out in their own yard or go two doors down the street and see if Nicky is home. Maybe your kid and Nicky will then stay in Nicky's yard or come back to yours, or maybe they'll sneak further down the block to the woods and try to build a tree fort - but either way they will figure out for themselves what they want to do.

Is there a risk of someone getting hurt? Sure. Will your kid and Nicky end up doing something dangerous that would make you scream uncontrollably if you knew about it? Almost definitely. But the vast majority of the time, the worst that happens is either your kid or Nicky gets a cut or a bruise when they fall down, and your kid and Nicky will panic that they better figure out how to fix it or else you and Nicky's parents will find out that they were in the woods, they'll figure out some way to cover the evidence, and then everything will be fine. Maybe your kid has a bruise that goes away in a few days, but that's it.

The parent's job is to judge when and how much license to give their kids; but there's some benefit to trusting your kid to come get you if someone's seriously hurt, and otherwise just let them go.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:26 AM on December 17, 2020 [16 favorites]


So, I figure anxiety is a fact of life, and the idea isn't to prevent anxiety. Prevent unnecessary anxiety, sure. Not offload your own baggage onto the kids, sure. But they're going to have anxiety.

One of my kids is freaked out about air quality. We had fires nearby over summer, so we wouldn't let the kids out to play because the air quality sucked worse than usual Los Angeles. Now she's always worried about air quality before she goes outside, so I showed her how to check it herself. It's kind of in her nature to have that kind of anxiety.

The earlier we teach kids how to deal with anxiety, the better. For me, it's teaching them to understand what they control, and what they don't. And to assign value to different things, such as how important something is, or how soon it needs to get done, or whether they can do something a different way. That way they can assign the appropriate level of attention to it. Hopefully that cuts down on anxiety, knowing that it's okay if they can't do something, have to do something later, or prefer to do something differently.

Of course, I have trouble dealing with my own anxiety, so there's that.
posted by 90s_username04 at 10:48 AM on December 17, 2020 [11 favorites]


Kids are fragile to a point. I mean, it'd be a bad idea to expect your kid to be able to bench-press 100 pounds or to negotiate for a car loan. The problem comes in when kids are protected from every possible hardship or difficulty - sometimes messing around and doing stuff is how kids learn.

Yeah, you're not wrong, but I don't think that is what these sorts of articles are attempting to convey. No one, including myself, is suggesting smothering a kid or not allowing them to explore and endure any sort of pain or struggle. But society is constantly upping the threshold of what children should have to endure in the world under the label of becoming "resilient." And in the context of the current world and constant crises, telling parents that they need to figure out a way to make their kids less anxious and more resilient rather than saying we need to change the world to protect children from physical and mental complications of constant struggle and chaos is...passing the buck onto parents and kids in a way that is completely intellectually dishonest. If I was a kid with any sort of awareness I'd be hella anxious, and with good reason. People in power that children and adults alike are expected to trust are faltering, on purpose, and telling individuals to survive on their own. That they're feeling just anxious and not full on crippled is astounding to me. But why is it the parent's job to figure out how to "fix" that? Who is giving them the tools?
posted by Young Kullervo at 11:05 AM on December 17, 2020 [14 favorites]


Like many of you, I had a strangely mixed upbringing ito hovering vs. free-range. This made it hard for me to grasp what people were getting at with this talk of "resiliency". As far as I knew from personal experience, my so-called resilience was a brittle, bitter, painful legacy of a pretty abusive childhood where I was forced to deal with too much on my own in some ways and forced to allow my parents too much control over me in other ways. It used to be very confusing for me to translate into real terms what a "happy middle" between hovering vs abandonment looks like in day-to-day life with my kids...

... until I reframed it as "making and holding space for your child" vs. "taking over the child's territory/show/game".

To me, this distinction is much easier to grasp in real terms. When faced with a child who is expressing their anxiety or depression, I have no idea what "hovering" is or what the other extreme of "expecting the child to handle too much on their own" is. But I definitely know what it means to make and hold space for the child's feelings - it means being present physically and emotionally with the child, being curious about what the child is communicating, watching what happens, allowing myself to be the cheerleader at my kid's game.

They do need me as a cheerleader. I have to be present and I have to do that. If I never show up to the game, that's a dereliction of my parental duties. It does not build resilience in my kid to know that their parent doesn't give a shit.

But I also have set aside my own anxiety (which gets activated when I know my child is upset) and allow the kid to go through their own process to solve their feelings. If I were to say, "Here's how to feel better! Why don't you do this? How about I help you address that?" - that would be an effort to alleviate MY anxiety by forcing the kid to feel better on my timeline, in my way. I would be taking over their game, playing their game for them. That hurts the kid.
posted by MiraK at 11:12 AM on December 17, 2020 [22 favorites]


The Atlantic article was really good, and highlighted the benefits of being real and honest with children. The hard part is that that requires you to be real and honest with yourself. Well, I'll try.
posted by rue72 at 11:22 AM on December 17, 2020 [4 favorites]


Not saying we shouldn't also fight against the forces that are making life harder for the vast majority of kids/families - of course we should! - but raising resilient, thoughtful kids is part of that IMO.
posted by MustangMamaVE at 11:34 AM on December 17, 2020 [1 favorite]


For another, meta-analyses of recent research have found that the overall associations between screen time and adolescent well-being range from relatively small to nonexistent. (Some studies have even found positive effects: When adolescents text more in a given day, for example, they report feeling less depressed and anxious, probably because they feel greater social connection and support.)
I'm never quite convinced by these arguments. It seems a bit like saying "Everyone's on heroin, but the people taking the most heroin are happiest so it's probably fine".
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:36 AM on December 17, 2020 [7 favorites]


This is very timely, and I'm going to think about and draw on some of the tips.

There are (at least) three things going on here.

1. Parenting inherently involves figuring out how to build resiliency with kids, balancing nudging them to grow and protecting them from things they're not ready for yet, to the best of our imperfect abilities to do so. This is different for every kid, every family, every situation -- but it is one of the core parenting dynamics.
2. And then some kids have (or are likely to have) anxiety disorders, depression, might not be neurotypical, etc. which make the above more difficult.
3. And then it's fucking 2020 and there's a pandemic and it's all harder than usual, whatever you usual is.

We're dealing with all three in our house, with one tween and one teen. It's tough. Some things that have worked for us include regularly acknowledging what's tough rather than putting a good face on it, being honest when we're (as adults) sad/scared/stressed, highlighting when there is genuinely good news (vaccines!), and giving everyone -- including the adults -- permission to "regress" a little bit when needed.

The tween really hit a wall about a month ago. They are pretty stoic / quiet as a temperament, but also very anxious. A health issue (not COVID) really freaked them out and we were basically getting panic attacks. They're a little better now, mostly because we took the health issue seriously, but also encouraged him as he suddenly needed more hugs / cuddles / reassurance that a few months ago he'd decided he was too old for.
posted by feckless at 11:51 AM on December 17, 2020 [11 favorites]


feckless, my kid is hitting that wall now. I'm ready to cry for your tween, you, my kid ... the kids who don't have parents who can react as you did (for various reasons). Going to walk away from the screen, go hug my kid, build some Knex thingy with him and connect.
posted by MustangMamaVE at 11:55 AM on December 17, 2020 [1 favorite]


My teen, on the other hand, is coping by reading lots of super-sad fanfiction and getting tears / catharsis that way. Which seems to be a solid method, and is hilariously on-brand for our house.
posted by feckless at 11:57 AM on December 17, 2020 [6 favorites]


Yeah, you're not wrong, but I don't think that is what these sorts of articles are attempting to convey. No one, including myself, is suggesting smothering a kid or not allowing them to explore and endure any sort of pain or struggle.

The article isn't suggesting that - the article is trying to talk down the parents who already are doing that.

There's an adventure playground program in New York, on Governors' Island. It's divided into two sections - a "mud kitchen" for kids 3-6, and the main "playground" for kids over 6. The "mud kitchen" has random toy pots and pans, big patches of dirt, and a hose to make mud, and kids can mess around making mud sculptures and mud pies and stuff. The main playground has lumber, hammers, nails, saws, tarps, shovels, and pipes, and kids can build forts or pirate ships or slides or whatever. They have some adults on hand to keep order, but unless a kid specifically comes to ask them for something, or unless one of the kids runs around trying to hit people with a pipe, they leave the kids alone.

I mention this spot because one of the features of the site is a big prominent sign that they place by the door, explaining that parents are NOT allowed to come in, and encouraging parents to just sit on their hands and let their kids alone. They are trying to dissuade parents from back-seat play-directing ("Hey, Jackie? Sweetie? Maybe that hammer's going to be a little heavy for you, go ask if there's a lighter one...") and encouraging the parents to let the kids collectively figure stuff out for themselves. The title on this sign is a big reassuring pronouncement that "Your Kids Are Fine".

These articles aren't suggesting that we should smother our kids - they are saying the contrary, which is that there are many parents these days who already are doing that, and they're suggesting people should scale that back. Mind you, it is 100% understandable why a parent would want to keep their child safe - a kid crying because they whanged their thumb with a hammer is going to tug at the heartstrings of any parent. These kinds of articles are suggesting that there are a number of parents who would respond to that kind of event by doing all the hammering thereafter "so you don't bonk your finger again", or would even keep their kid from ever using a hammer in the first place; and these articles are suggesting that instead of doing that, maybe just work with your kid a couple times to show them a better way to hold it, and then...let them try again.

I did bonk my thumb with a hammer when I was nine; my friend's grandpa was giving our 4-H club a woodworking class, and I was trying to nail some bookends together. It smarted, but he distracted me with a god-awful pun and got all of us laughing, and I was fine, and the bookends got a blue ribbon at the 4-H fair that year, and best of all, I know how not to bonk my finger with a hammer.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:58 AM on December 17, 2020 [10 favorites]


one far more psychologically taxing than the late-20th-century world into which you were born

Well, I do this by thinking the whole concept of when I was born (1980) as somehow being psychologically less taxing as complete horseshit, to be honest.

My daughter is 10, and when I was her age, my relatives in Lithuania were just months into being out from under the boot of Russian/Soviet occupation for the first time in almost a century. Me dying in a nuclear holocaust was finally something that less than likely to happen, and my father's chosen career (computer software) was finally something that could do more than just put food on the table.

And that's just my experience. There is a very short chain of people between the 10 year old who had to steal food from the Russian Army to survive (my great-great grandfather), and the 10 year old who occasionally has connection problems trying to Zoom into her 4th grade math class in her sweatpants (my daughter). Each subsequent 10 year had it so much easier than the previous one.

All this hasn't reduce my parenting to just endless "back in my day, snow, uphill both ways" stories, but it's made it easy to tell my mind to STFU when it comes to worrying about "resilience". Because, let's be honest, kids don't inherently worry about practically anything, we (the parents) do that to them.
posted by sideshow at 11:59 AM on December 17, 2020 [14 favorites]


"But the vast majority of the time, the worst that happens is either your kid or Nicky gets a cut or a bruise when they fall down, and your kid and Nicky will panic that they better figure out how to fix it or else you and Nicky's parents will find out that they were in the woods, they'll figure out some way to cover the evidence, and then everything will be fine. Maybe your kid has a bruise that goes away in a few days, but that's it."

This is not the worst that happens. The worst that happens is THREE police officers return your tween child to you because he was unsupervised and scold you about about your negligent parenting for allowing your junior high school student to circle the block unsupervised and take a report and insist you not let it happen again, and then you sit and wait to find out if the person they mandatorily-reported it to at CPS thinks it's worthy of investigating you for negligence or whether they ignore the report.

This is not a parenting problem. This is a societal problem. Parents can't solve it. They're forbidden from solving it. The police will intervene if they fail to adequately helicopter their children, or attempt to allow them to develop age-appropriate independence.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:26 PM on December 17, 2020 [40 favorites]


But the vast majority of the time, the worst that happens is either your kid or Nicky gets a cut or a bruise when they fall down, and your kid and Nicky will panic that they better figure out how to fix it or else you and Nicky's parents will find out that they were in the woods, they'll figure out some way to cover the evidence, and then everything will be fine. Maybe your kid has a bruise that goes away in a few days, but that's it.
I can't think of the polite way to say: this is the whitest thing I've read today.
posted by XtinaS at 12:39 PM on December 17, 2020 [43 favorites]


It's worth examining why parents (let's face it: moms) are so often accused of being overprotective. In fact I don't think we can take it as proven fact that "moms' overprotectiveness is ruining kids these days". Where is the evidence of this harm? There were hundreds of hand-wringing articles and books and think-pieces throughout the '70s, '80s, and '90s that excoriated mothers for abandoning/neglecting children to get into paid work ... with a similar lack of actual evidence of any harm done. And now that it's clear that the children of working moms are doing just fine, we've found a new standard that moms supposedly fail at.

To me it sounds like just the newest remix of the same old song that goes Mothers Are Doing It Wrong - previous hit versions have included, for instance, "The Schizophrenogenic Mother", "The Mother Who Causes Her Son To Become A Gasphorrorshock Homosexual", "The Dry Mother", "The Wet Mother", "The Withholding Mother", "The Demanding Mother" and on and on and on.

The truth is humanity has been far too misogynistic to truly seriously study the science and art of parenting until just a few decades ago. We disregard the value of women's work and this is where it gets us: a world of seven billion babies who were raised by clueless parents, who are clueless themselves about how to raise their own kids. Anna Freud and Donald Winnicott and Bowlby and Ainsworth and Piaget have started nudging us in promising directions, but this whole field is barely in its infancy still. It is SUCH a new area of knowledge, one that we are still slow to fund well or take seriously.

The only level on which we pay attention to parenting methods is when it gives a chance to tell mothers off for being stupid or evil or both. As a parent myself, and as someone deeply interested in the study of parenting, attachment, and child development, I wish we could read articles about how to help our children through difficulties WITHOUT also having to stomach made-up claims about "ohh kids these days are being ruined, ruined! by terrible mothers." It's infuriating and mendacious. Here's an idea. You want parents to do a fantastic job of raising children? How about you start by paying parents for this difficult, arduous, time-consuming work.
posted by MiraK at 12:50 PM on December 17, 2020 [17 favorites]


(To clarify: when I say "where is the evidence of this harm?" I mean where's the evidence that children's increased anxiety and suicidality is caused by or exacerbated by parenting? Back in the '80s, mothers leaving kids in daycare to go to work was blamed for the "epidemic" of ADHD. There was similarly no evidence back then.)
posted by MiraK at 12:59 PM on December 17, 2020 [5 favorites]


Discussion of children's anxiety during a global pandemic morphing into a discussion of free-range playgrounds (which I'm quite certain are open and accessible in the dead of winter during a global pandemic) is A+ Extra-Fine 100% Classic MetaFilter Parenting Content.
posted by vunder at 1:03 PM on December 17, 2020 [24 favorites]


To me it parallels some of the concept behind socializing a puppy. The idea is to expose your pup to as many things as you can while they're young and willing to try anything so that they learn the world is a big wonderful place full of neat things to explore. They learn to react to new things with curiosity.

Otherwise they learn that new things are scary and will default to reacting with fear which leads to aggression and anxiety.

Raising a kid and raising a puppy are definitely not the same. But having raised a puppy to adulthood and a kid to 2.5, there is a TON of overlap.
posted by VTX at 1:15 PM on December 17, 2020 [1 favorite]


They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:25 PM on December 17, 2020 [13 favorites]


This conversation took a weird turn. Most of the articles are about parenting during the singular weird fucked up event we’re living through and how the future will be more stressful than the past, and folks have talked about generic parenting during normal times.

I’ve been thinking about how kids are gonna come through this. When we had the earthquake in Christchurch back in 2011 it lead to a lot of ongoing trauma for kids who lived through it. (Cw death and trauma). I think we’re going to see that post epidemic unfortunately. Even where there’s no trauma, people’s lives are so disordered compared to normal there are bound to be flow-on effects.
posted by supercrayon at 1:33 PM on December 17, 2020 [11 favorites]


Philip Larkin was a sour and melancholic git, tbf.

I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. The threat of nuclear war was constant and I did, in fact, participate in those stupid drills where you got under your desk. I was sure the world was going to end.

My parents and everybody else's parents sent us out to play and yelled or rang a bell at dinner time. Life was mostly miserable for me because (a) I was ADHD when it didn't officially exist, so many of my parents' fights were about me or with me (b) the fights were actually about their utter dysfunction as human beings.

I taught the fragile children of the very wealthy for 25 years. They were terrified because their parents were terrified. I had a kid come into my room weeping uncontrollably because the Latin teacher had given him an "F." All I had to say was, "You can handle an F," and he stopped crying. He was so sure he couldn't, you see, because his parents were terribly afraid he couldn't. Kids tend to be more secure when their parents are not constantly afraid on their behalf.

I sent the Atlantic article to my kid, who was also allowed out to play with the neighbor kids in the eighties and was allowed to talk to strangers, and who is now raising the grandchild with lots of walks outside and a cheerful attitude, and I think they're gonna be okay.
posted by Peach at 1:35 PM on December 17, 2020 [3 favorites]


"For another, meta-analyses of recent research have found that the overall associations between screen time and adolescent well-being range from relatively small to nonexistent. (Some studies have even found positive effects: When adolescents text more in a given day, for example, they report feeling less depressed and anxious, probably because they feel greater social connection and support.)"

I'm never quite convinced by these arguments. It seems a bit like saying "Everyone's on heroin, but the people taking the most heroin are happiest so it's probably fine".


I moved over a thousand kilometres away from all my family and friends at age 21. There was very little home internet available in the tiny remote town I had moved to, and long distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive. All I could do was write letters. Do you know how long it takes to get a response via the post, even if the person writes back immediately? You're not going to have daily, or even weekly, contact that way. I sank into a pretty deep depression for a while.

When, six months later, we got internet and I could email everyone, I was a lot less depressed because if I wanted to, I could connect with my family and friends multiple times a day. The difference was life-altering.

As an Old who remembers what it was like to be geographically cut off from my support system before email (let alone texting or FaceTime/Skype/Zoom) was a thing...I have to say I'm really GLAD kids and teenagers who have to isolate can text their friends all the damn day. Shit, I'm a relatively introverted middle aged person, and I'm really glad *I* can text my friends to my heart's content during this pandemic.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:04 PM on December 17, 2020 [13 favorites]


This is not the worst that happens. The worst that happens is THREE police officers return your tween child to you because he was unsupervised and scold you about about your negligent parenting for allowing your junior high school student to circle the block unsupervised and take a report and insist you not let it happen again, and then you sit and wait to find out if the person they mandatorily-reported it to at CPS thinks it's worthy of investigating you for negligence or whether they ignore the report.

Eyebrows, that’s because Illinois has an absurdly strict yet vague law on this:

”neglected or abused minor [as] any minor under the age of 14 years whose parent or other person responsible for the minor's welfare leaves the minor without supervision for an unreasonable period of time without regard for the mental or physical health, safety or welfare of that minor.”

Blame our legislators.
posted by leotrotsky at 2:13 PM on December 17, 2020 [2 favorites]


I don't actually have the emotional wherewithal to read this thread right now but as a father of 3 at the beginning of the pandemic and 4 now: it's been real fucking hard dude
posted by sleeping bear at 2:15 PM on December 17, 2020 [28 favorites]


> I don't actually have the emotional wherewithal to read this thread right now

As someone who is parenting children during this pandemic, the last thing I want to do with my few remaining brain cells is read articles about parenting children during this pandemic.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:51 PM on December 17, 2020 [12 favorites]


My eleven year old just came out. I talked to my therapist because as a queer mama to a queer kid, there was a LOT going on, atop the pandemic, graduating to high school, divorce, and so on. A lot of it was about how different it is for her.

I grew up queer in the 80s. I didn't see butch women, I saw gay men dying and grim reaper ads. I got letters in my mailbox during the same sex marriage referendum about all queer folk being paedophiles, lost my late best friend's husband to the panic about teaching safe schools queer stuff, lost my marriage when I started being honest with myself about being masculine of centre, and here my kid is wearing a pride flag to school.

We share worries but it's a different scale, different set of obstacles. She is worried about family not accepting her: I steeled myself to walking away from everything every time I came out. Hilariously she didn't realise I was queer (me friends: "...how? Has she seen you?" But again, the culture is so different that what flags me as a big ole sapphic to my peers is almost invisible to a generation of pride flags and rainbow everything).

We are in Oz, her grandparents already had COVID, lockdown sucked but we have a decent understanding of her ADHD and my brain thing, so we got through. But it sucked.

So yeah, she stayed up til god knows last night texting with her friend who had a crappy mean girls moment with her other friend, after we were both woken up by obnoxiously loud sex from neighbours. Resilience can absolutely be "teach workers mindfulness so they stop asking to be paid for overtime or mental health care" style crap, but it's also recognising when the usual standards don't actually apply. Do we make mistakes? Sure! Her marks kinda sucked and she doesn't perform to the best of her abilities at school and that's partially because we have never judged or shamed her for that, or told her it will make or break her life. Does she sometimes pull the ADHD/only child/extrovert card when being an annoying jerk? Yes. But she is an only child so it means we have more time and space to talk through that.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:25 PM on December 17, 2020 [7 favorites]


Even where there’s no trauma, people’s lives are so disordered compared to normal there are bound to be flow-on effects.

I actually do think this whole situation has been one of the most collectively traumatic events that we will all coherently, simultaneously experience during our lifetimes (barring another pandemic happening, which isn't that unlikely). It has and will affect all of us differently, uniquely, because everything affects everyone in slightly idiosyncratic ways, because we're all at least a little bit different from the next person who comes along. For children, this may be an event that has long-term consequences about how they perceive the role of government, family, social support, education, and work. I'm hopeful that a positive that comes out of this is a whole generation and a half of people who can, with great seriousness, see the impact of government institutions on daily life. They'll likely see that no, their parents and nobody's parents are God, and that their parents really did do what they could during this wretched time to protect, support, nourish, and care for them (ideally, anyway). But seeing the limitations of one's parents is good, and maybe that will influence them into pressuring our government to, you know, govern. To build a society that supports all of us.

So that's the best case scenario, in light of all these events. However, the pandemic has been "capital T" as well as "lowercase t" trauma for many/most people. I know I'll never get on any kind of shared transit (airplane, bus, train) without a mask ever again (and why would I? I can see now how effective they are at keeping pathogens at bay during respiration). Many, most kids will always think back to this year, this time, on a constant/regular basis and will be referring to it as a memorial touchpoint for ever, the same way I recall seeing the 9/11 terrorist attacks live on TV in middle school, the same way I recall the DC area snipers cruising through ours town, the same way I recall the feeling of horror about the Columbine shooting, the same way I recall personal "domestic" traumas. Will they remember every single detail of every single day? No, most won't- most people just don't. But they'll recall the feelings associated with these memories, and that is really what counts here. I think it will look something like complex-PTSD, potentially, possibly, for many children.
posted by erattacorrige at 4:17 PM on December 17, 2020 [8 favorites]


On 5th Feb 1962, there was a Grand Conjunction of the 5 classical planets . . . during a solar eclipse. The BBC News the night before showed footage from India of folks preparing for The End of The World. 7.5 year old, lonely old, me spent that day in a State of Dread silently saying goodbye to everything and everyone around me. I was so aflush with anxiety neurotransmitters it was hard to walk. I take my hat off to any 7.5 year olds who have sustained anything like that for 9 months rather than 9 hours.
posted by BobTheScientist at 10:57 PM on December 17, 2020 [2 favorites]


I bookmarked this thread and read the articles yesterday but didn’t get to read the comments because I am parenting and working from home during a pandemic. What I want more than anything is an internet community of parents who are in it, struggling, and sharing stuff so that I don’t feel so desperately alone and can gather ideas to help cope with my own situation. Everyone is living pandemic life so differently, though, and kids don’t deserve to have their struggles publicly aired on the internet, so instead you get people bullshitting about adventure playgrounds and helicopter parents.

This is what I know:
* My kid has been in full-time remote school since March. I cannot send them back to in-person school or childcare until there is a pediatric vaccine available. It is fucking hard, sad, and stressful.
* We are all holding stress in our minds AND our bodies. I have had to schedule multiple doctors appointments to rule out “real” physical causes and illnesses for real stuff affecting my kid. This is a fucking weird time.
* Ambiguous loss is everywhere this year. I could easily list dozens of things my kid is mourning right now, from “small” to large. Even the “small” things are hard to deal with, and they may look small to me, but they can feel huge to kids.
* I think the weirdest shit is yet to come, when we have to re-integrate our homebound kids with society outside their homes. I’m not just thinking about academics here, but basic human interaction stuff. I’ve seen hints of this during the rare times I take my child to previously “normal” places, and it is jarring.

And to know that everyone is living the pandemic differently is the hardest thing of all. We have a lot of conversations at home about it why we can’t do the same things as person X who is living life like nothing has changed, and it really fucks with that already outsized childhood obsession with “fairness.”

Basically I hate everyone and everything right now, and these articles were somewhat useful in giving me some strategies to prevent that from tainting my kid’s mental well-being, but fuck if I know. Nobody knows.
posted by Maarika at 8:15 AM on December 18, 2020 [15 favorites]


> Everyone is living pandemic life so differently, though, and kids don’t deserve to have their struggles publicly aired on the internet

That's a huge part of this, for me. There are so many Things I Want to Discuss with, say, other parents in our school district, but there isn't a way to do that while also respecting my kids' privacy.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:09 AM on December 18, 2020 [4 favorites]


Is there a non-paywalled version of the Atlantic article?
posted by gottabefunky at 11:35 AM on December 18, 2020


An absentee parent, abject poverty, and random psychological abuse definitely made me more resilient in some ways, but certainly contributed to my own always-just-below-the-surface emotional/substance issues.

I haven't read all the articles, but skimming those headlines sure does make me leap to some conclusions about the economic status of the intended audience . . .
posted by aspersioncast at 6:45 PM on December 18, 2020


I think the weirdest shit is yet to come, when we have to re-integrate our homebound kids with society outside their homes

I worry about this a lot too. I’ve noticed over the last few weeks that my 8 year old holds my sleeve and stays right next to me on neighborhood walks and when we go into stores (my SO isn’t available right now so kid has to come with me on errands). He’s used to being with me basically every minute of every day and seems fearful of being not close enough physically when we are in public. This is so different from his pre-covid demeanor. I hope the fear can fall away when we get back to “normal.”
posted by JenMarie at 4:29 AM on December 21, 2020 [3 favorites]


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