April 19, 2020

A Quarantine Camp Backpack for Parents

James Alan Astman, Ph. D. / Headmaster Emeritus


Introduction to the Video Series

I’ve spent decades writing and teaching about child and adolescent development, and about the many joys and occasional heartaches of parenting.  I’ve also had the chance to speak with generations of young people about their perspective on parenting.  So I appreciate Jaime’s request that I offer guidance to parents in this time for which none of us had adequate preparation.

Jaime and I actually began this conversation from opposite sides of “The Pond,” since I spend a part of each year as Visiting Scholar at Oxford University.  (My wife, Marlene, works in a college studio collective with fellow ceramic artists.)  Like other Americans, we had no choice but to return home once international travel restrictions increased and the coronavirus spread through the UK.  In our last few days in Oxford, we witnessed the start of panic buying, the closure of the university, and the contagion of misinformation and fear.

Back home in Los Angeles, we remain in our post-travel quarantine – grateful to be back in direct touch with friends and colleagues.  Like most of them, we limit our news intake, since it creates uncertainty, raises anxiety, and becomes unsettlingly redundant: “wash your hands,” “keep six feet away,” “wear a mask,” and, of course, “flatten the curve.”

Thanks to FaceTime and Zoom, we keep in close contact with our children and grandchildren.  We cherish the conversations we’re having with our son and our daughter about their experience as parents coping with unprecedented circumstances and daunting questions.  How do we explain to our children why the world has been turned upside down?  How do we manage family life when everyone is suddenly home?  What’s the long-term impact of isolation from friends and family, not just on our children’s social and emotional health, but on our own as well?  Our conversations often turn to one overriding question: Given these dreadful circumstances, how can we help to promote our children’s resilience and optimism about their future?

As parents, how do we navigate these kinds of questions, especially when our customary roadmaps fail us?   Our homes have become our temporary tents, pitched in uncharted territory to protect us during our forced stay in “corona camp.”  In the coming weeks, I’ll suggest a handful of relevant “camping tools” to carry in a parenting backpack as we explore this new territory.  My suggestions come with humility and humor, but also with seriousness of purpose.  These are days for which no parent is adequately prepared.

I hope that the metaphoric camping tools I’ll offer in the weeks ahead – I’ve included ten in my Parenting Backpack – will give parents some helpful ways of thinking about their children’s healthy development, especially under duress.  The individual camping tools include:

  • Binoculars: for seeing close up what’s off in the distance
  • Compass: to assist us in finding our way when lost
  • Walkie-talkie: allows only one person to talk at a time
  • Thermometer: for regulating the temperature (our own and our children’s)
  • Rope: for tying and untying the knots we make
  • Mirror: for seeing ourselves and reflecting back to others
  • Flashlight: to help us see in the dark
  • Earplugs: to tune out unwanted noise
  • Periscope: to get glimpses of what’s over our heads
  • Antidotes: for camping emergencies, like the one we’re in

I hope these short segments will be helpful and enjoyable.  Most of all, I hope that in the coming weeks, we’ll all feel greater clarity about what lies ahead.  But this much is certain: at some point in the imaginable future our children will return fully and joyfully to our lives.  May that conviction be an ongoing source of our optimism and resilience as parents!