Tag Archives: Common Sense Media

Supporting Your Child’s Mental Health 

By Tracey Dowdy

Parents trying to work from home, teach their children, referee disputes, and keep everyone fed aren’t the only ones stressed out during this quarantined season. 

Common Sense Media and Survey Monkey polled over 800 U.S. teens, trying to get a sense of how they’re coping with the multitude of ways the coronavirus has impacted their lives, and how they’re staying connected. The results aren’t surprising – tweens and teens are stressed out and relying heavily on social media and texting to try to fill the gap that social distancing is having on us all. 

According to their poll: 

  • Ninety-five percent of 13- to 17-year-olds have had their classes canceled, 41% have had no school at all, and more than a quarter say it’s hard to find a place to study at home.
  • Teens not only fear that a loved one will become infected, but they also worry about the family’s finances, particularly Black and Latinx teens.
  • Roughly 40% feel “more lonely than usual” and bout the same number say they feel “about as lonely as usual” during this season. Parents may be surprised to hear these same teens say that social media and texting can’t replace close association and face to face interaction with friends.
  • One significant shift is that when compared to pre-pandemic times, more teens are going directly to news organizations for information rather than getting it second hand through family and friends. 
  • Unsurprisingly, tweens also report feeling stressed about school, family and friend’s wellbeing, and understanding what’s happening. 
  • Individuals who struggle with mental health report that their negative feelings are particularly heightened right now. 

So what’s a weary parent to do? Don’t despair – there are ways that you can support your child’s mental health that will provide them with the tools they need today, and that will equip them for challenges they face as they mature and become independent. 

  • One benefit that’s come from being quarantined is that teens report feeling more connected to family than ever. Read the hints they drop and invite them to watch a movie together, play a game, or play in the backyard. It doesn’t need to be structured or planned – look for spontaneous moments to connect. 
  • Right now, texting and social media are hyper-important to teens who’ve grown up with devices in the palm of their hands. If the need for discipline arises and reduced screen time was your go-to pre-quarantine, consider choosing another way to address the issue. With the level of isolation, your teen is already feeling, cutting off what social connection they have may exacerbate the problem.  
  • Because many of the teens report that social media and texting are a large part of their coping mechanism, consider allowing them to use your phone, tablet, or computer if the family is used to sharing. There are simple, secure, and effective ways to set parental controls, so you don’t need to worry about them changing settings or accessing private information. 
  • Create new routines to find your new normal. It’s unlikely that we’ll be back to normal soon, so build some structure into your days and nights. It can be as simple as setting up mealtimes, “packing” snacks for the day, scheduling FaceTime chats with grandparents, or determining “from nine to noon we do school work.” 
  • MyFridgeFood lets you plan a menu based on the foods you have on hand, so let your kids take over dinner one or two nights a week. If they’re little, allow them to look through the pantry and fridge for what’s available and help them search for a recipe. If they’re older, go one step further and have them cook. This isn’t just busy work – these are life skills that will take them far.
  • Anyone else celebrate a milestone during this quarantine? I had a birthday and my friend Leah had a baby. Students are missing their graduation, prom, recitals, and a myriad of other events. Reassure them you’ll celebrate once we get the all-clear – put a date on the calendar if that helps. Remind them this will end – countries who were impacted first are transitioning out of quarantine and someday soon-ish, we will too. 
  • Remind them of all the good that’s happening. Many people are recovering, charities are still being supported, and researchers around the world are working on a vaccine. Some of their favorite celebrities are doing what they can to encourage us. Some are reading bedtime stories on Instagram (@savewithstories), releasing new music, or just sending some positive vibes out there – check out Some Good News by John Krasinski, complete with a logo and background that was drawn by his daughters.

 The most important thing is to keep those lines of communication open. You know your child better than anyone and recognize when a meltdown is coming. Validate their feelings of unease and frustration – we all feel that way sometimes. Be open, be compassionate, and let them vent. You don’t have to solve the problem – you need to ride out the storm alongside them and reassure them you’ll be there, supporting them in any way you can.   

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Teach Your Children Media Literacy

By Tracey Dowdy

At least once a day, I see something shared by one of my social media connections – Facebook friends, an Instagram account I follow – that is clearly fake news, fake science, or pure parody they’ve taken seriously. In a time when widespread misinformation is a real concern, one would think adults would be more media savvy, but alas, satirical sites like The Onion, Babylon Bee, and The National Report have links to their content reposted as though it were real news, not parody at its finest.

But media literacy is more than being able to spot fake news. True media literacy means evaluating what you see online and understanding that everything needs to be filtered through the lens of what we know to be true. We need to teach our children to ask insightful questions like, “Who said this? Why would they say this? What do they stand to gain?’ With virtually the limitless information available with just a few keystrokes and clicks, teaching critical thinking skills and media literacy is essential.

Back in 1988, when the internet was new, before Google and Snopes let us fact check anything we cared to, author John Naisbitt, cautioned us, “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.”  Could there be a better description of what litters our online experience today?

Teaching media literacy enables our kids to be discerning consumers of media, able to establish values based on facts and information – not feelings, opinions, and perceptions.

It takes more than a single lesson. It’s an ongoing conversation from the time they’re old enough to sit through a YouTube ad while they wait to watch an episode of Shaun the Sheep. Common Sense Media suggests asking these questions when teaching media literacy:

  • Who created this?Was it a company? Was it an individual? (If so, who?) Was it a comedian? Was it an artist? Was it an anonymous source? Why do you think that?
  • Why did they make it? Was it to inform you of something that happened in the world (for example, a news story)? Was it to change your mind or behavior (an opinion essay or a how-to)? Was it to make you laugh (a funny meme)? Was it to get you to buy something (an ad)? Why do you think that?
  • Who is the message for? Is it for kids? Grown-ups? Girls? Boys? People who share a particular interest? Why do you think that?
  • What techniques are being used to make this message credible or believable?Does it have statistics from a reputable source? Does it contain quotes from a subject expert? Does it have an authoritative-sounding voice-over? Is there direct evidence of the assertions it’s making? Why do you think that?
  • What details were left out, and why? Is the information balanced with different views — or does it present only one side? Do you need more information to fully understand the message? Why do you think that?
  • How did the message make you feel? Do you think others might feel the same way? Would everyone feel the same, or would certain people disagree with you? Why do you think that?

By starting the conversation when they’re young, your children will develop lifelong habits based on the key concepts of media literacy, so they’re able to all evaluate all media through the filter of fable or fact.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.