Is COVID-19 Straining Parent-Child Relationships?

  • 28/09/2020
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After living largely within the confines of our homes for the last 180 days with our families, it’s certain that the impact of the pandemic on our relationships is significant. Families have spent considerable time locked down together under one roof, unlike ever before. Grandparents, parents and children are navigating these difficult times in close proximity, relying on each other for support and companionship while social circles – friends and extended families – remain out of reach. 


As the pressures that come from living with the disease intensify, so does the emotional and mental stress of these uncertain times. The closest relationships are the ones that will be tested the most – that of parents and children. Family dynamics are bound to undergo some change in this trial by fire. We explore what the lockdown has meant for the two generations and how they seem to be coping with its many challenges, together and individually. 


Family Togetherness in Times of Lockdown


Father and daughter doing chores together
Lockdown initially led to an increase in family time and togetherness


In a pre-Covid world, quality family time would probably mean vacations and Sundays where everyone got together to enjoy meals, watch movies or play board games together. An extension of these practices was seen in the beginning months of the lockdown with a spike in family zoom calls and game nights that extended across cities. Students and young professionals who moved away from home have had a chance to spend real quality time amid their otherwise busy lifestyles.


As the lockdown has continued, however, new challenges have emerged. We’re constantly surrounded by our immediate family whether we’re trying to work, study, exercise, catch up with friends and finish our daily quota of household chores. 


Parents are having to deal with their kids constantly cooped up inside the house while working themselves and helping their children with online school work. In an attempt to help those parents feeling overwhelmed, Counsellor Nandini Raman, in an article for The Hindu, shared her experience of dealing with the lockdown with her teenage children after the initial ‘summer vacation feel’ wore off. Some of her parental tips include doing daily chores together (cleaning, gardening or chopping vegetables), sticking to a schedule, restricting screen time (for everyone in the house) and developing a family ritual. Different activities for younger children that involve creative thinking and physical exertion are other suggestions to engage children productively. 


Screen Use & Abuse


collection of numerous television screens
COVID-19 has increased screen usage time especially by children


Since school has shifted online, screen exposure has skyrocketed. Paediatric neurologist Dr Puja Kapoor Grover, in conversation with The Indian Express, explained how detrimental excessive gadget use can be on young children’s cognitive development. She also suggested steps to mitigate screen time effectively, the most important one being adults getting off gadgets and spending quality time with their family. With apps for restricting screen time and parental controls on the TV, it has become easier to control how much exposure children have to screens and technology. 


While the focus remains on children’s excessive screen time, it remains true of parents as well who have been working from home these past few months. With continuous meetings, conference calls and deadlines to meet, the lockdown has proved challenging for working parents, to say the least. With socialising and connecting with family and friends also taking place online, adults’ technology usage has also doubled. Ms Raman warns of its effects on our mental health – anxiety, depression, dysfunctionality, isolation, agitation and boredom – and reinforces her belief in limiting screen time for the entire family. 


Personality Changes in Children Due to the Pandemic and Lockdown


Numerous studies conducted since March 2020 have concluded that the pandemic will have lasting behavioural effects on the youth in the world, especially children and teenagers. While young adults have both access and the cognitive capacity to process the information overload surrounding COVID, children perceive the reactions of their parents and often mirror those, feeling helpless, insecure and vulnerable. 


Psychiatrists Louise Dalton and Elizabeth Rapa at Oxford University explain how children engage in “magical thinking” and end up feeling guilty for things happening to their loved ones which they have no control over. Closer home, writing for Mumbai Mirror, Ms Sonali Gupta, a therapist, also shared her experience of receiving frantic calls from parents anxious about their children’s altered behaviour and moods. 


The uncertainty and loss of personal freedom are also affecting adolescents who cannot predict what their future will look like. At a time where friends and their opinions seem far more important than family, the distance could cause heightened feelings of loneliness and anxiety, says Ms Gupta. 


Academic Impact for Children Due to COVID-19


Child's mathematics exam with pencil fractions
COVID-19 has impacted the academics of students in crucial years of their lives


While younger children may not have the pressure to attend school right now, students in Class X, XII and those preparing for various competitive exams have been left hanging. Continuous delays with exam dates and a pandemic with no end in sight have caused increased boredom and fatigue among teens, an article in The Week suggested. Motivations are also bound to run low as our method of education is mostly dependent on exams and assignments.


For those looking to attend college abroad, this year has been especially trying. After working hard to get admission into their dream universities, the year will likely be spent interacting with new classmates and experiencing college life online. 


Through the bleak situation, there seems to be a silver lining. Many youngsters have used this time to spend more time with family, revisit old hobbies, reconnect with old friends, learn new skills, take up new projects and internships in a mature attempt to keep busy and stay sane through the pandemic, reports Diya Mathew for The Week.


While some relationships may be essential in keeping us grounded and sane, others may be making this difficult time, more stressful, and there may not be much we can do about it. However, our relationships are also what make us who we are and understanding how to be a better partner, child, friend and co-worker is something we could all benefit from.

Story by Vasundhara Sarda for Bodhiroom

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