Most parents are in a state of confusion as their children are staying home with the schools closed and almost all the avenues of meeting friends have been blocked. Many of the students have also lost the rythm of daily routine they had when the schools were functioning normally. Even the bedtime as well as the wakeup time have changed. The latest challenge before parents is how to deal with children who spend the entire 24 hours of a day at home.
One of the biggest issues in many households is arranging a space for the child to attend online classes. When there are two school children, their requirements would be varied and the anxieties of the parents only worsen. In houses where both parents work, there would be another set of problems.
Balancing screen time
Disputes often erupt between parents and children over balancing the time spent for studies online and for entertainment. I remember a 12-year-old boy brought to me by his parents after he threatened to boycott online classes if he were not allowed to spend an equal time for games.
Another mother and father suspected that their 13-year-old daughter strayed to other cyberspaces during online classes. Making matters worse, both parents could not stay home to monitor their daughter. The number of such suspicious parents is growing and with many of them acting vehemently along the moralistic lines, tensions occur at homes. A teenager, in such a incident, was provoked to an extent that he broke several household items in a fit of rage. His mother was terrified and his father was simply helpless.
Online education has other pitfalls also. A child had the habit of slipping away to a dream world in the classroom. The teachers often noticed it and woke him up from the dream and compelled the student to listen to the class. However, after online classes became the norm this year, the child’s mother found that his studies were suffering as he spent more time dreaming with no one there to shake him back to reality. There are many such students who need some prodding to make them focus properly on studies. Methods to deal with such children have to be devised.
While many parents complain about the use of screens for education and loss of academic standards, a number of basic issues are being ignored. One of them is that the present generation of parents has a major drawback of being spoon-fed by their elders regarding not only their studies but also attitudes when they were growing up.
However, such a system is not at all a model to emulate, especially in the digital age. Children who have the skills to smartly balance studies and entertainment face little problem. Online education has to take place with the children taking full responsibility for their actions. In short, the main issue is what should be done to make children carry out their own tasks. The youngsters need to be guided to manage their time in the most efficient manner so that they become capable of thriving in the new world. Trust, not suspicion, is the key word in this process.
Challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and e-classes have taught everyone several new lessons. Outdoor activities, which are essential for developing a child’s personality, are no longer available. This has led to social problems in many youngsters. Moreover, the abundant creative energy generated during childhood and teenage is also being wasted.
Role parents can play
Parents should assume the new role of teacher and classmate of their wards as face-to-face interactions such as in a classroom are impossible to recreate. More time has to be dedicated by parents for this role in these times of ‘School from home.’
In lower classes, lessons should be minimum and only aim to keep students in touch with their studies. Marks and grades could be ignored in this process, releasing parents from much stress.
Meanwhile, parents can arrange facilities at home for students to exhibit their extracurricular talents. The elders can also discuss with students and prepare a suitable daily schedule.
Students may display emotions such as anger, restlessness, sadness, aggression and even insubordination, which could be a reflection of their psychological opposition to the changed situation. In such an event, parents should give them a patient hearing as listening itself is a gesture of offering support. There are many children who have adapted well to the present conditions, for which their parents had a major role.
The above suggestions may be difficult to practice for some parents and for them a helpline is the need of the hour. Such a helpline, preferably in each school, could offer advice to parents on specific situations.
(The author is a leading psychiatrist)