A friend and I recently compared notes on how our teenage daughters were faring during the pandemic – which has thrown kids of all ages a developmental curveball.
If you’re a parent, asking about each other’s children has taken on a heartfelt gravity. During the past year, anxiety about how kids are doing socially, emotionally, physically, and academically has kept parents wide-eyed in bed at night and tired and frazzled during the day.
Collective worry over children’s wellbeing, along with a study of the latest science, prompted the CDC last week to release a new report on the safety of in-person schooling, saying it was O.K. with proper protocols. How education plays out across the country will be a state-by-state, county-by-county, school board-by-school-board conundrum.
Meanwhile, many parents have an ambient sense of helplessness on how best to usher their kids through an extraordinary rough patch.
There is one simple, research-backed measure that all parents can take to improve their children’s emotional wellbeing during the pandemic and well beyond. And it’s this: Give your kids your undivided attention.
Before you groan about another bit of undoable, guilt-producing parenting advice, continue reading.
Decades ago, Stewart Friedman, an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School, and Jeffrey Greenhaus, a business professor at Drexel University, conducted a landmark study on how parents’ careers affected their children’s lives. (The study included 900 professionals from various industries between the ages of 25 and 63.) https://hbr.org/2018/11/how-our-careers-affect-our-children
One of the study’s seminal findings was that the amount of time parents spent working versus on childcare didn’t influence their children’s mental health.
What did? How psychologically available and physically present parents were when they were with their children.
If parents were physically present but mentally consumed by their work or, more commonly nowadays, their iPhones, children were more likely to have mental, emotional, and behavioral issues.
Quoted recently in Inc. magazine, Friedman said: “Time and attention are not the same thing; there’s a big difference between physical presence and psychological presence. You can be spending time with people, but if you’re not psychologically present, you’re not doing anybody any good.”
In other words, quality time isn’t a misnomer. And that’s excellent news not just for fraught parents but for everyone. Being more present for each other during times of duress and even when life hums along is an obtainable behavioral choice that can dramatically improve all of our relationships and serve as a source of enduring support.
Being present is a dedicated mindfulness practice. But everyone – even those who never want to meditate – can put their iPhones in the sock drawer now and then.
We also can tell our kids that after answering emails, getting off our Zoom call, or taking some time for ourselves, we will give them our devoted attention. And whether it’s for 10 minutes or an hour, we will make them feel as if they’re the most important thing in the world.
(Image is courtesy of KateMangoStar)
A friend of mine works in a state governmental office. She’s one of the many behind-the-scenes essential workers who is quietly making sure people get the services they need during the pandemic.
The other day when I asked her how she was doing, she said she was so exhausted she didn’t know. Many among us are exhausted and burned out. Others are anxious and depressed. So much so that some refer to the multitude of COVID-19-related mental health issues as the “echo pandemic.”
That might not be news, especially for those of us who are mentally and emotionally suffering.
But what is noteworthy is the national conversation we’re now having about mental health, particularly within the workplace. In a recent WSJ article, chief innovation officers at big tech firms acknowledged how they now include their employees’ emotional health among the things they feel responsible for managing. As Carol Juel, the CIO for Synchrony Financial, told the WSJ: “The new approach for CIOs must be technology plus empathy.”
Sometimes from the shadows comes light, and as mental health issues become more of a focal point, there’s hope that conditions that were once stigmatized can be addressed and, more importantly, treated. There’s also something decidedly human about discussing these issues within the workplace, which often is the source of many of our mental and emotional stress. All of it holds the promise of changing mental health care for the better.
The realities of pandemic-related stress, employees demand for care, and more compassionate leadership, will compel companies to offer better access and mental health benefits in the future, according to a McKinsey & Co. report on the coming revolution of mental health in the workplace.
Companies also have plenty of financial incentive to do so. According to McKinsey, Starbucks paid more for health insurance for its workers than it did for coffee, and the three domestic automakers spent more on healthcare than on steel. Mental health is a huge driver of overall health care costs. According to the American Institute of Stress, between 75 percent and 90 percent of all physician visits are stress-related.
It’s fair to say most companies and health care plans do a terrible job of caring for their employee’s mental well-being. A visit to a therapist is about five times more likely to be out of network and more expensive than a visit to medical doctor, according to a 2017 report by benefits firm Milliman. And that statistical nugget is just one of many showing how current mental health benefits fall short.
We can all hope, though, that one of the lasting trends of this horrible and unrelenting pandemic is a more caring workplace.
I’m feeling quite newsy so let’s stay on trend. Another outgrowth of the pandemic has been the explosion of telehealth and non-clinical methods for working with conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Nearly 44 percent of Medicare visits happened virtually this past Spring compared to nearly zeor the year prior, according the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In the future, it’s just as likely we’ll visit our doctor onscreen as in person.
What’s more mindfulness, which has been moving rapidly into the mainstream, is now viewed as a first-repsonder to these and other issues such as insomnia.
Downloads for meditation apps have soared since the pandemic, governmental agencies such as the state of California list mindfulness as a resource on their COVID-19-related mental health webpages and online mindfulness classes have flourished.
Along those lines, check out my upcoming Unified Mindfulness Class: Improving Life Through Meditation beginning Thursday, Feb. 18th to March 25th from 7 to 8:15 p.m. via Zoom. You can register by clicking on the Classes tab on my website or clicking this link https://www.kellybarron.com/unified-mindfulness/