By Ray Navarro MS
When most people think of social distancing they think of masks and 6 feet. Is that what you think of? Because I don’t. I think of my daughters. What’s happening to my fourteen year old terrifies me of the present, and looking at my 8 year old scares me of what the future might bring. I’m talking about social media. When I was younger I was the first to have everything in my group. A TV in my car, Bluetooth at the time when everyone assumed I was talking to myself, the first flat screen TV (that cost me 3k), hell I was even the first of my friends to have a CD player in his car. Even with all that I am still just an old man trying to catch up to what is happening.
As a therapist I’m more sensitive to behavior than most. As an empath I’m more sensitive to emotions than most. But when all is said and done I’m just a father trying to guide my children and frankly I’m at a loss. If they were my clients I could just turn down my emotions and turn up the logic but when you truly love someone, the way a parent loves a child, emotions will always be prevalent.
So why am I so concerned? Social media and electronics in general have been creating a rift in what we know as traditional “socializing” for over a decade now but its influence is increasing rapidly. Is it that I have been indoctrinated by years of my mother telling me that the TV and video games would rot my brain? Was it years of urban legends telling us sitting to close to the TV would make us go blind? Who knows why but the fear is still there and in my mind it is still justified.
As a professional counselor and an amateur philosopher I tell myself that you cannot fight change but God I want to so bad. All I see as a father is my daughter isolated in her room and the lights are off except for a glow reflecting off her face. When she wakes up her eyes are blood shot and she clearly hasn’t been sleeping. Her anxiety is up, her depression symptoms are up, and we barely talk anymore. Covid 19 was the ultimate alarm. Kind of like the light of a lighthouse finally shining through the parting clouds, but this is not relief for parents as it is for so many sailors that see the “light”. As parents we have been forced to “understand” that our children can’t go outside. Our children can’t see their friends. Our children can’t play in the sun and breathe in the fresh air. This is not human. This is torture for an entire generation that isn’t even old enough to have the awareness to know what is happening to them.
And then I hear hope, not from my daughter, but from my clients. Children tend to make an assumption that every adult will somehow tell their parents anything they tell them. Therapists are different though. As a therapist I am not allowed to say anything to anyone about what is said in session unless there is an immediate threat to themselves or others. I won’t lie, many of the kids take weeks to build this trust in a therapist, if it’s a good therapist, and some will take years. However the kids that do speak openly tell me a different story of social media and electronics.
The kids I talk to tell me how the internet is the only way they can talk to their friends. Some tell me that FaceTime is the only way they can see their friends. So as parents how do we take that from them? Are we being asked to pick the lesser of the two evils once again? Is this what life is about, having to choose what would cause the least damage to our children? As parents, stuck at home as well I might add, how many times have we pushed the electronics on them because we needed them quiet? Does this make us bad parents or are we accepting the situation that we are in? I don’t know.
So what do I tell the parents of my clients? I tell them moderation. I tell them to allow it but to have structure. Give them a couple hours a day as long as their responsibilities have been met. Make sure when they go to sleep their phones are not left in their rooms. Make sure they wake up and go to sleep at the same times every day. Make sure you spend time with them every day. Most importantly, and unfortunately the most difficult, is to make sure they feel the sun and breathe the fresh air every single day. Some of these can obviously be combined, and should be if possible, but all are necessary. With all that said, everything nowadays appears easier said than done and this is no different. We are being challenged, every single one of us. Life is full of tests. Will we pass this one? When I first asked myself that question I didn’t have an answer, but then I looked at my children. There is no choice here. We will pass this test, and you know how I know that? Because I can’t tell you how were going to make it, but I can tell you that if you’re reading this than you’ve already past every test that life has thrown at you. Why would this test be any different?
I’ll leave you with this. There’s an old proverb that says “it takes a village to raise a child”. As parents, as humans, we must adapt. Reach out for help. Set up those zoom play dates, go for a walk with your children, find a good counselor, but don’t give up. Maybe the village, at least for the moment, is online.