Overview: Between the media coverage of the COVID-19 epidemic and an overall lack of things to do other than engage with screens, teens are struggling with digital well-being. As the pandemic lifts and we move forward, they may need help to move on and set aside pandemic-induced coping mechanisms.
The Mental Health Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic will have a host of aftereffects. In particular, the impacts on mental health for everyone, kids and adults alike, may be severe. Even the most well-adjusted person has faced mental strain since the pandemic began in early 2020. Mental health care has been harder to access, and people with preexisting concerns may struggle with managing them in the absence of help.
Tweens and teens, in particular, may be more vulnerable for a number of reasons. First of all, they’re in a time of transition between childhood and adulthood, which any parent knows is difficult enough.
Secondly, everyone’s lives have been upended, with remote learning and remote work, social distancing, and everything else. Beyond the obvious difficulties, this has forced many people, teens and adults alike, to ask themselves what they really want out of their lives. Their view of the future may have changed completely.
Finally, somebody close to them, such as a friend or a family member, becoming seriously ill and potentially dying can cause trauma, or they may know somebody dealing with that trauma.
What Teens Worry About Most
Studies of teens have found that they’re most concerned about the direct impacts of COVID-19 on their lives, as opposed to getting sick. A study published in October 2020 found that teens were most distressed by the loss of in-person social connections. Fear for the health of friends and family was secondary.
Similarly, news coverage and social media posts were found to increase general depression and anxiety, in many cases feeding into a negative feedback loop.
Teens are particularly vulnerable, these studies found, because they tend to lean more on their peer groups for support than adults, particularly if they’re part of a marginalized group. They’re more likely to open up to their peers and friends than their parents, and they’ve generally been unable to spend time with these groups.
That is, of course, changing as vaccines become more common. As of this writing, everyone aged twelve and up is eligible for a vaccine in the United States, but the vaccination rates among teens lags behind other age groups.
Habits may be forming now that we’ll all find it hard to break when the pandemic is officially in the history books. And that makes digital well-being even more important.
What Is Digital Well-being?
There are many definitions for digital well-being. We like this one: the concept of having a healthy relationship with technology that has a positive impact on our lives.
Assessing our digital well-being is a process where we take a critical look at how we engage with our devices, at work and at home, and figure out how to prioritize our mental health while getting what we need from digital tools.
Actions to improve your family’s digital well-being can take many forms, such as:
- Blocking or limiting certain websites or apps during hours you need to be productive.
- Deleting or restricting apps that drain your time or sometimes leave you upset.
- Physically leaving devices outside certain spaces, such as bedrooms or workspaces, to limit temptation.
Sometimes, this balance is easy to strike, such as uninstalling a game that has us hooked or unfollowing somebody on social media. Yet during the pandemic, more nuanced questions have emerged. For example, if you find the news upsetting, should you delete your news apps? Or is being upset the cost of staying informed during a difficult moment in modern history?
Teens and tweens, in particular, will struggle with this balance as their devices are currently one of the few tools they have to stay in contact with their social groups. Remote learning has also made it difficult to limit screen time. And the pandemic began in a cultural moment where phones and tablets have become essential to our daily lives, to the point where we plug in our phones before we start our cars.
How to Work Toward Digital Well-being
The first step is to have a discussion with your kids about what they’ve dealt with in the pandemic. You may be surprised to learn that some of their concerns apply to you as well. It may make sense to work with a counselor, as excessive screen use is often a symptom of a larger problem, and dealing with that problem is the best approach.
Another idea is to have your kids make a diary of when they’re using screens and why. What are they doing? Who are they doing it with? How does it make them feel? Let them know that they don’t have to share the diary with you. Instead, they should consider what it tells them about what they’re doing and look for unhealthy patterns. Apps like WebWatcher that track how much time they spend online and where can help them better understand their habits.
Then, reflect on changes from pre-pandemic behaviors. It’s normal to seek out screens as a response to boredom, and kids should understand that it’s OK to be bored and find something to do. But if there’s another reason, they should consider why. Don’t hesitate to reach for data, either. WebWatcher can store long-term data and help identify behavior patterns.
Talk with them about why they’re using screens the way they are. Do they turn to Netflix to calm down when they’re upset? Do they fire up a video game when they’re angry? Or scroll endlessly through Instagram? Have them consider why they’re doing these things, whether it’s effective or useful, and if there are healthier ways to get the same result.
Then, they should sort out what they may want to keep from their screen use during the pandemic versus what they want to set aside. They should work to set boundaries on where and when they use screens, talking it out with you and others to identify what those boundaries should be and why.
WebWatcher Has Your Back
At WebWatcher, we want to help you guide your children toward better digital decisions. The internet is a rich resource for educational content, wholesome entertainment, and family fun, and we’ll help you find the best of these. But we also know that unhealthy content and too much screen time can be harmful to kids.
Our goal is to help families find the digital sweet spot — the right balance of screen time and time spent doing other healthy activities, like exploring the outdoors. We offer parental monitoring software to help families find that balance because we know that busy parents can often use a helping hand.
To learn more about what WebWatcher can do for your family, follow our blog.