Pandemic Parenting

I’m no expert, but it’s not hard to observe that parenting has shifted radically in the new millennium, especially in the South.

Gone are the days when a child would have their mouth washed out with soap, their face slapped or their bare bottom switched. Now, we send small children to the timeout chair. We place our pre-teens and teens on restriction. We have serious discussions about expectations, choices and consequences.

We all feel so much more civilized about our discipline methodologies. It’s rare for somebody to get a whoopin’ in the New South.

But the new ways break down quickly when society is upended, and nothing in recent memory has brought us to the brink of a societal breakdown like the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re all — parents and children alike — pushed past the limits of our patience. Who among us has not at least thought about bringing back the old ways, just once, and giving our mouthy offspring a swat on the behind?

Parents joking about their failures and wishing to return to a simpler time of punishments fill social media. We respond with our LOLs and SMHs knowing the feeling all too well.

In the heat of the moment, when a transgression surfaces and must be confronted,  it feels like a life-or-death struggle against the galactic forces of evil. We believe our children’s belligerence and disrespect must be stamped out or civilization will fall and they will grow up to be misanthropes.

In these dark days, we resort to the only tool seemingly left to us: taking away screen time.

laptop, iPad, Nintendo Switch, wireless earphones
This is what disciplining children looks like in the New South. We hope by taking away the laptop, tablet, game system, and wireless earphones, we are getting our kids’ attention.

Pre-pandemic, this was a relatively mild punishment. Depending on the duration, our children might actually prefer to have their devices confiscated for a few hours. I know in our home, not only did grounding from screens restore stability, our children actually seemed happier and more engaged in creative pursuits like reading, music, art and cooking. Each punitive action produced a mini Renaissance that restored our hope in them and their future.

That was then.

Now, if we remove the devices from our children’s lives for even just a day, it feels like we are cutting off their supply of oxygen. It’s the only pleasure they have left, their only connection to friends, their only outlet to escape the drudgery of isolation and quarantine.

In the pandemic, taking away screen time is the nuclear option.

We have to be careful to avoid the brinkmanship that leads to that ultimatum. If someone goes to the “no screen time”  penalty too quickly, the wailing and gnashing of teeth that results has no remedy. All that is left to silence the outcry is lengthening the time of the restriction. It’s a vicious cycle that ends with the parent losing their sanity, credibility or both.

This is the universal parenting quandary of the pandemic, and it is not limited by geography. Parents in the New South find themselves grappling with the same problem as parents across the globe.

So, what’s the answer?

Like I said, I’m no expert. 

As with everything during these seemingly endless days trapped in our homes, all we can do is try our best, exercise as much patience as possible and ask for forgiveness when we go too far.

Oh, and start saving for therapy bills. We’re all going to need to talk this out with someone when it’s over.

Maybe you’ve found a solution. What punishments have you found particularly effective during the pandemic? Please, by all means, share! Leave a comment and let us in on the secret.

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