Parenting advice

The week's best parenting advice: January 19, 2021

Red flags about screen time, vaccine requirements for kids, and more


Second thoughts about pandemic screen time

In the early days of the pandemic, many experts waved off concerns about increased screen time for kids. But now, nearly a year in, they're having second thoughts as parents "are watching their children slide down an increasingly slippery path into an all-consuming digital life," reports The New York Times. "I probably would have encouraged families to turn off WiFi except during school hours so kids don't feel tempted every moment, night and day," says Dr. Jenny Radesky, a pediatrician who studies children's use of mobile technology. The main concern is that devices are taking the place of healthy activities like physical play and important social interactions. Such concerns aren't necessarily new, but psychologists warn that the pandemic has amplified them. And when COVID restrictions ease, the withdrawal will hit as kids have to learn how to "sustain attention in normal interactions without getting a reward hit every few seconds," says addiction expert and Stanford psychology professor Keith Humphreys.


When will kids get the vaccine?

As the COVID-19 vaccination effort gets under way, "trials to make sure vaccines are safe for the young are beginning in earnest," reports Bloomberg. Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson all plan to test their vaccines in kids age 12 and up, with some results expected this summer. "If you want to get this under control, you need to vaccinate kids," says Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer at Johnson & Johnson. But, as Bloomberg reports, the speed at which these vaccines will be made available depends in large part on getting more data on transmission in children and how much vaccines stop the spread, and so far, "little is known so far about either." Meanwhile, the head of the Los Angeles Unified School District — the nation's second-largest school system — has said all kids will be required to get a vaccine once it's available. "That's the best way we know to keep all on the campus safe," Austin Beutner says.


The down side of masking up

While face masks can help reduce the spread of COVID-19, some scientists worry they may limit young kids' ability to identify key facial expressions, which humans rely on heavily for communication. And these concerns are backed by some new science. One recent study found that kids have as much trouble reading the faces of masked individuals as they do reading faces of people wearing sunglasses, The Wall Street Journal reports. "It hampers everyday life," says psychologist Claus-Christian Carbon. "It's not just that you can't read the face anymore. You misread it and misinterpret emotions." But not to worry, kids will compensate by analyzing tone of voice and body language, the researchers say, while stressing that the benefits of wearing masks far outweigh any risks for children. "My sense is that the kids will be all right," says psychologist Ashley Ruba.


How was your day?

It has never been particularly easy to get kids to dish about their school day, but now that things have gone virtual, it's even harder. This isn't surprising, says Meghan Moravcik Walbert at Lifehacker, "given that their days are continuing to bleed together in endless pandemic monotony." But it's still worth a shot. Getting the timing right is key. Avoid asking about their day immediately after they've closed their laptop. "They're barely out of the experience; they don't want to talk about it yet," Moravcik Walbert says. Give them space to decompress, and in the mean time, offer up some details about your own day to "take the pressure off." And get specific with your questions. "Ask them what they're learning about in history class (gee, anything we could learn from?) or whether the spelling test was as hard as they thought it would be," Moravcik Walbert suggests. "Ask a boring question, expect a boring answer."


Why age 4 may be the hardest

Every year of parenting has its unique challenges, but age 4 can be "especially confusing" for moms and dads, writes Emily Edlynn at Parents. "Their child can suddenly do so much more than they could at 3, but they also still have their toddler meltdown moments." One reason for these outbursts comes down to biology: The frontal lobe, which helps control impulse, isn't fully developed at 4, so kids can't stop themselves from doing things they shouldn't, which gets them into trouble. On top of that, they are still learning how to handle strong emotions, and often resort to screaming and crying when reprimanded. Parents can try break this behavioral cycle by staying calm, getting down on their kid's level (i.e. literally crouching), and giving them a chance to correct their behavior. "If we can remember they want to do well, but their brains aren't caught up to their intentions, it can help us stay calm to do our part to keep those little brains learning and growing," Edlynn says.


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