No. I do not offer online yoga classes for kids. And I have no plans to in the future.
Adding virtual classes for adults was a big step for me, and only as an option for community members to stay connected. I have sold zero virtual only passes and am quite content to keep it that way (ok maybe one to pay for the Zoom fees would be cool)
Bonnie Henry has publicly stated that there have been no new infections in gyms or yoga studios since we all reopened in December 2020 and thus, I will continue to encourage in person, safe, connection through movement for mental health.
You may know me as the yoga instructor/therapist from RVN Wellness, but you may also recognize me from local hospitals or crisis programs. I might have been one of the first faces your child saw in the Emergency Room after a suicide attempt, with a mouth still black from the charcoal they were given to reverse the poison they ingested. Or maybe you spoke to me on the phone when you were desperate, trying to look for resources when your six year old child muttered that they want to die. Or maybe you’ve seen me out for walks with kids in nature, encouraging them to take a deep breath and smell the ocean air, or playing tennis, or practicing yoga in the park.
I am a Mental Health Social Worker. I have one of the worst jobs on the earth. I always thought people who empty the dog waste at public parks have a shitty job (pun intended) but after they go home and shower, the shit is gone. The stuff I have seen, the things I hear… that will stick with me forever. There is no amount of “self care” one can do to erase the trauma of providing crisis support to suicidal kids. Children who want to die. Children as young as six years old who would rather end their life than continue on the way they are living.
This is a blog. These opinions are my own. So I am going to say what we all know but nobody wants to say.
SCREEN TIME IS KILLING CHILDREN.
I did some research on medical journals. Everyone wants to dance around the topic. There is a “correlation, but not a casual effect”, “teen suicide is rising while social media use is rising” but nobody wants to come right out and say what is happening… kids are killing themselves as a direct result of unrestricted, unsupervised access to the world wide web.
Desperate parents are bringing their children to the emergency department, asking for medication for their children who have become zombie-like in their interactions, aren’t sleeping, are having panic attacks, refusing to go to school, and are voicing suicidal ideation. One that perhaps gave me the biggest head shake was a well intended mom asking about weight loss medication for her child that was gaining weight as a result of spending the entire night gaming, and then sleeping all day. I cannot make this stuff up.
The underlying issue in 90% of kids I see… unrestricted, unsupervised, screen time. Often at a very young age.
I see children as young as 6 watching pornography or taking naked photos on their ipads to send to “friends” online (which is by the way, is considered distributing child pornography) or acting out in sexually inappropriate ways towards peers. Your first reaction might be “not my child” – but if you are not present for every minute they are online, do you really know it isn’t your child?
I see children unable to function at school because they are up on their phones or video games all night. I see children who have been in group chats with peers telling them (in detail of how to do it) to kill themselves. I see children who have uncontrollable panic attacks or rage when their devices are removed by parents attempting to set limits.
I could go on.
You may have come across this blog googling teen suicide or screen time addiction. Or perhaps you know me from my yoga studio as the silly kids yoga teacher who is known to wear socks with animal faces on them. Whoever you are, I have one request for you…
STOP BLAMING MENTAL HEALTH CLINICIANS.
When someone is a smoker and dies of lung cancer, do we blame the oncologist who was unable to save their life? No. But when a child commits suicide as a direct result of screen time addiction, why do we blame those working tirelessly to save them? We are exhausted. For every file we close from a child our interventions have helped, we have a pile of new referrals on our desk with several more kids needing immediate support.
I am good at what I do. Kids enjoy connecting with me, and listen when I provide them with practical tools to manage their big feelings. That being said, even the best therapist in the world could not compete with 10-12 hours a day of screen time in a one hour a week counselling session. We just can’t. We can provide all the coping tools in the world to kids but the ipad, cell phone, gaming system will always win. They are designed to win. They are designed to keep us addicted, to keep us engaged, and to ensure we have an anxious attachment to the allure of constant notifications and instant feedback.
So who is to blame? Parents? Schools? COVID? Video game companies? Internet service providers? This isn’t a blame game. We (society) all have a role. I am guilty of walking down the street looking at my phone – what is this modelling to kids? My brother pointed out that my niece’s primary use of screentime is video calls to Aunt Dawn. I have been sleep deprived as a result of doomscrolling. We all have a responsibility to do better. Our future generation deserves better.
When I opened RVN Wellness, it was because I knew I had to do something different. I knew the value of play, connection, breathing, and movement and what it could do to help kids build resilience.
The Tri-city news captured my “why” so well in an article when I opened. I don’t want to provide crisis intervention to kids anymore. I want to help kids (and adults) feel empowered, connected, and resilient. I want to help kids rediscover the joy of play. And I want to do that in collaboration with conscious parents, schools, and other young people support systems. This is my offering of a piece of the solution to managing the mental health crisis impacting children today.
How can we, as a community, better support young people in managing the damaging outcomes of unrestricted and unsupervised screentime during these pandemic times? I opened a yoga studio and designed kids programming to build resilience. I know others who have started outdoor groups, people who have helped kids get jobs or volunteer work to fill those extra hours caused by the shortened school days, and many other great ideas. I’d love to hear some other creative ideas and see them in action!
Now before you come up with excuses as to why your child “needs” to be on their ipad/video game/cell phone unsupervised, I can assure you I have heard most, if not all of them.
– “It is the only opportunity for them to socialize with their peers during the pandemic”. Fake news. From day one, Dr. Bonnie Henry has encouraged us to get outside for walks. Youth sports and activities were briefly put on hold but we are allowed to continue with safe activities right now. If in person is not possible (as is the case with my niece in another province) – does your child need to be socializing unsupervised? Or can you participate in the video calls?
– “________ program helps with __________ lifeskill” No doubt it probably does. But how did you learn ______ life skill? Play? Discovery? Books? Asking others? Or if it does require a screen, can you learn together.
– “I want my child to fit in with their peers” – This is a tough one. I get it. It seems like every child out there is online. But are you also providing your child with a vape and some cannabis? They might actually be less harmful than that iphone. We will see what the research shows in a few years.
– “safety” – I can assure you, there are far more dangerous things on the internet for children than exist in Port Moody.
– “alarm, calculator, music, other useful functions” I am not THAT old and remember having an alarm clock, pocket calculator, ipod/discman/radio.
– “I need a break from parenting” – I bet you do. I am not touching this one other than to say… there are far less dangerous babysitters out there than screen time.
I could go on. Now you may notice I have said unsupervised and unrestricted screen time. I am not advocating for a society with zero screen time (ok actually that would be SO cool, but then how would you read this?) and so my primary tip for using screens with children is…
What is your intention?
No parent I have met intended to have their child develop an anxious attachment to a device, or to get cyber bullied, or engage in child pornography, etc. I do believe parents purchasing these devices for their children have the very best of intentions. Perhaps this is the first you have heard about the dangers of these devices. They certainly don’t come with warning labels as cigarettes do (although if I had my way, they would.)
Each time you engage in screen time WITH your child, what is your intention?
If you are providing them with unsupervised screen time, what is your intention?
If you are providing them with unrestricted screen time, what is your intention?
When we approach any challenge in life with an outcome in mind, it can allow us to develop intention. When we are conscious about our intentions, we can discern what might be helpful in working towards that intention. I’m not asking you to remove all devices from your child, but if you have read this far in this blog, chances are you might be struggling with screen time overuse in your home and thus, I am asking you to return to your intention of offering the device. If the device is not serving the intention you set when bringing it in the the home, perhaps it is time for it to go.
Lastly, before removing devices, restricting screen time, or setting limits, please remember that it is not your child’s fault. It is not their fault that their little developing brains fell prey to the addictive features of the games/apps/devices. If you are going to reduce screen time in your home, please ensure you fill it with activities that have similar serotonin/dopamine releases for them to manage withdrawal. This may include outdoor time, movement, creative outlets such as art or baking, socialization (in a covid safe way) or other activities your child enjoys.
We are a year into a wild pandemic, we are all exhausted. Please practice compassion to the young people who have found comfort in devices during difficult times, and self compassion if you were unable to provide the support without devices they need to navigate these challenging times. But as we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this pandemic, we need to start looking at ways to support our young people in managing the big feelings (and suicidal thoughts) that come as a direct result from unrestricted and unsupervised screen time because it should come as no surprise, that those very devices kids are turning to for comfort, are usually the problem.
And yes, despite all of the above and believing I have one of the worst jobs ever. I love what I do. I am honoured to be able to hold space for youth working through some pretty tough situations.
Here’s my little disclaimer… this is a blog of personal thoughts, not intended to replace real medical advice or intervention. As with any blog or opinion, take what you’d like and leave the rest. If you or your child are struggling with suicidal thoughts or self harm, please ensure you reach out to appropriate mental health supports in your community.