I was recently conducting a session on parenting and family resilience when a participant—a parent of a teenager and a six-year-old—asked me, “In today’s turbulent world, what are three qualities that every parent needs to teach their children?”
Three qualities that stand out for me, and which lead to long-term positive impact, are: capacity for patience, ability to enjoy unstructured time, and building a community and valuing social support, whether it’s in the form of friendships, family, or a supportive teacher. If I had to add two more, I would say sleep hygiene and self-compassion. Modelling good sleep hygiene in terms of getting seven-eight hours of sleep and a healthy relationship with gadgets serves you well. Learning to be gentle and kind with oneself when dealing with difficult situations always helps.
We are living in a world of instant gratification. Whether it’s daily groceries, medicines or food, they get delivered within minutes to our doorstep. For young children who have grown up with the internet, answers can be found quickly by simply typing a question. Given this kind of environment, it’s important to encourage children to develop patience—they need to see that from tricky life situations to career growth, everything takes time, grit and patience. Whether it’s through the habit of reading, creating art, gardening, going for treks and hikes, together we can create spaces for building patience.
Over the last five years, I have been seeing more and more young people who struggle during holidays and don’t know what to do with unstructured time. In the last few years, there has been a significant change in parenting styles, in terms of involvement, scheduling co-curricular classes during holidays and after school. As a result, when teenagers and young adults find their schedule open, with free pockets of time, they feel unproductive and don’t know what to do. Some of them tell me how anxious and lonely it makes them feel, others share how their whole day is spent on social media.
Giving children opportunities to enjoy free time without access to gadgets, the pleasure of being out in the nature, getting bored, hobbies that allow children to have fun and find relaxation is crucial. Learning to have fun and ability to be with oneself, while not working, is an important skillset to cultivate.
One of the topmost concerns in therapy sessions is that of loneliness and isolation. In my experience, clients, who are in the 16-30 age group, report feeling alone, not understood and lack of community more than older clients. Our dependence on technology has resulted in us being more connected than ever, and yet emotionally and psychologically disconnected and not seen.
Friendships and relationships strengthen over time, they require in-person meetings, shared memories, which come from a desire to put energy, effort and mindfulness into them. Conversations consistently had over social media or only on text create an illusion of intimacy, but may not allow us to experience a real connection and an opportunity to deepen relationships. So, teaching our children the role social support can play and how it’s important to cultivate relationships is crucial. It is necessary for them to experience emotionally safe spaces outside of home, where they can be themselves and receive support.
The best way for our children to learn these qualities is when we integrate them into our day-to-day life as adults. Children always learn best by watching, so it begins with us.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.