Parenting

Social Media and Mental Health

I have been thinking a great deal about the connection between social media and mental health. More and more news stories and research articles are coming out discussing the perils of too much screen time for children and adolescents. We are now starting to see more studies being done on the correlation of adult use of technology and wellness. As technology becomes more intimately integrated into our lives, I am beginning to see its impact, positive and negative, across the lifespan. 

The impetus for this blog came from a comment my daughter made last week when she came home from school. She told me that some of her friends have cell phones. I asked how she knew this and she said they pull them out of their backpacks to see if their mom or dad called. This seems reasonable enough, except for one small problem. My daughter and her friends are in 2nd grade. 

From my viewpoint, it is a problem for small children to have their own cell phones, even if they are just for calling their caregivers. Where else would a 7 year old be but at school in the safe hands of the educators? What could they be doing other than learning and having fun with their teachers and friends? And why do we not trust the people whose hands we leave our children in every day to call us if there is any kind of problem? 

Additionally, the primary task of childhood is to learn and develop friendships. If children are allowed too much screen time, they cannot learn to have strong friendships, problem solve, and use all the creativity the young brain is capable of. They seek to be distracted constantly. I have been in many public places where I see babies and toddlers with phones and tablets in front of them. Yes, they are being stimulated by what is on the screen, but they are not taking in what is happening all around them. 

And when young children believe that what is happening on screen is more interesting than real life, they become adolescents and emerging adults who are consistently dissatisfied with their own lives. They grow to believe that everyone else is more attractive and successful, and those people are leading happier and more exciting lives.  Real life is not stimulating enough for them. As a result, they become depressed and anxious. The research is clear on this. 

This can and does last into adulthood. Someone shared with me a story about her own husband. They were watching a movie together one evening. With each commercial, this person saw her husband picked up his phone. She did not say anything in the moment, but decided to see if this would continue to the end of the movie. It did. Every time a commercial came on, her husband picked up his phone. She finally had to ask him why it was so difficult for him to “just be”.  

Our phones, tablets, laptops, social media, Netflix, etc are all useful tools. But I want to encourage all of us to think about why we use these tools and how often. When we hand our children a tablet at dinner or in the cart at the grocery story, why? If your adolescent spends more time on social media than in face to face contact with friends, what is going on there? If you find yourself picking up your phone during commercials or in traffic, what might you be avoiding? If you partner comments that you seem more interested in Facebook than being with them, how true is that? We are generally looking to be distracted from stress, boredom, loneliness, sadness, and many other “negative emotions”. 

For 1 week, I challenge you to track how much recreational time you and your family members or partner spend on technology. You might be surprised by the number of minutes (or hours). 

The impact of technology on our lives is substantial and we do not yet know what the future brings in terms of the benefits and costs to a more technologically advanced society. For now, evaluate closely how you use technology, how your children are using it, what you are modeling for them, and its impact on all of your relationships and your own well being. Is your usage consistent with what you value and what you know brings you joy?

March Awareness Month

If you google March Awareness Month/Week, you will discover a plethora of things to be aware of! It’s Red Cross Month, Ovarian and Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and Brain Injury Awareness Month to name a few. But then if you scroll down, you will find a division of Awareness Weeks of March. Did you know that there was an actual National Sleep Awareness Week in March?! Anyone with babies and children are quite aware of our sleep, or lack thereof, awareness. There’s MS week, Down Syndrome Awareness Week. Here’s the one that caught my attention. In the U.K., they have a Tick Bite Prevention Week.Sunday, March 24th, starts the TBP week, and I guarantee you that I will be remembering that a country has claimed an entire national week to prevent tick bites. As silly as a Tick Bite Prevention Awareness Week sounds, if it allows families and pets to play outside with more awareness and precautions against tick bites preventing Lyme’s Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, or other horrible and debilitating disease caused by a tick, then bring on the awareness!There’s a difference in being aware and being anxious. If I have forgotten to buckle my seat belt, my car dings at me. There’s no need to panic. I just put on my seat belt. If I notice myself feeling more frustrated than usual, I do a self-check to see what’s going on internally. Sometimes it’s due to being tired, needing to work out, needing to have a conversation I’ve been putting off with my spouse.According to the Google Dictionary, “Awareness is the knowledge or perception of a situation or fact.” What personal and relational awareness do you have? What keeps you in check with your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being? What signs do you have that keep you aware? When you start having more negative thoughts about yourself or your relationship, does that cause you to pause and question where those thoughts are coming from? When was the last time you checked in with your family, had a family meeting time, and/or had a meal together without any electronics? When was the last time you self-cared, self-reflected, or had a date night?My hope would be that you are doing a weekly or bimonthly awareness of your relationship and yourself to avoid any chance of a relationship or self break down. If you find yourself needing help to work through the awareness you discover, know there is someone to walk with you and help you in your discovery journey. Being more intentional and aware in your living will create more peaceful and joyful spaces.

Do Kids Kill Marriages?

In my experience as a marriage and family therapist, few things rock a relationship like having a child together. All of a sudden, you're no longer free to do as you please, when you please, and how you please. For many couples, one or both parents start to prioritize the children over the marriage. This can lead to the marriage becoming an afterthought and spouses feeling marginalized. Therefore, do kids kill marriages? Absolutely not, but parents often do. But they don't have to!I firmly believe, and plenty of research supports this position, that the best gift you can give a child is a healthy parental relationship. Children from intact homes, especially those containing healthy marriages, benefit financially, educationally, emotionally, and relationally. However, many first-time parents are often [understandably] so worried and focused on the child's well-being that their romantic relationship suffers. For lots of couples, this is a short term issue and the relationship bounces back by taking on a new but healthy form. However, for many parents the problem lingers and creates a rift for the couple over many years.Many couples will argue that the child depends on them for survival, so they have to make the child priority #1. I wholeheartedly agree. If you are neglecting your child's primary needs in order to focus on your relationship, then you are doing it wrong. I would never suggest you make plans for your marriage that would neglect your children. However, I would adamantly suggest you find ways to continue to make your marriage a priority and, at times, the priority. If your child is sick, hungry, tired, dirty, etc, you take the time and energy to make sure they are cared for and healthy, right? I'm only suggesting that you do the same for your relationship.As a father of twins, I can appreciate the lack of time and energy parents have when babies first arrive in the home. Therefore I'm not suggesting you go on date nights every night or have long walks on the beach every weekend. I'm suggesting you both figure out ways to make sure you are continuing to invest in the person with whom you chose to procreate. This can be as simple as eating dinner together each night, finding time to ask about each other's day at the end of the day, and asking for help watching the child so you two can spend some quality time together, even if just around the house or neighborhood. Grand gestures are nice, but they pale in comparison to small, consistent gestures on a daily basis. Dads ask Mom how you can be of help. Moms ask Dad how he's adjusting to fatherhood. Most importantly, be patient with each other as you figure out this process!Finally, don't be afraid to ask for help! Whether you've recently had a child, you're expecting, or you are years into this process, don't hesitate to reach out. Our team is well versed in walking couples through creating and maintaining a healthy relationship through life's challenges, including parenthood. There are plenty of excellent resources out there. You are not alone unless you choose to be. Children can be such a blessing for any couple and household, it just takes intentionality and help from others.