By Keren Gudeman
MINNEAPOLIS (MPR Newsradio) — All Minnesota parents will be able to opt-in to virtual parenting options starting this month under emergency order.
The order, announced on March 15th, establishes Minnesota’s first virtual parenting opportunities. Parents of children in kindergarten through twelfth grade can choose from two scenarios. The Weekday Parenting option will give kids access to their in-person parents during the week and to virtual parents on weekends.
Under the second scenario, Weekend Parenting, kids have access to their in-person parents only on Saturdays and Sundays. Both models promise to keep kids safely glued to their screens using virtual parents from across the globe.
Health officials across the state cited mental health concerns for parents over the past year of all in-person parenting.
“Most, if not all, of our parents are not thriving,” the Governor said. “We’re taking action immediately.”
Minnesota’s hybrid parenting programs are a take on Texas’ popular all-virtual parenting program, which launched in June 2020. Texas health officials say parents across the state report cleaner bathrooms, more sex, and less anxiety about their child’s future. Many parents describe a sense of “freedom,” like Dallas parent Rita M., who regularly dines with her girlfriends, maskless, at her favorite restaurant, The Char House (which is at 100% capacity).
Virtual parenting is still relatively new, but since the onset of the pandemic early adopting states like Texas and Florida have shown how it can work. According to a recent Gallup poll, 92% of Florida kids report that their virtual parents are “much cooler” than their in-person parents. Emmett, 12, explains that his remote parents “don’t bug me when I eat junk food and let me play as many video games as I want.” In-person parents appreciate that their virtual counterparts are taking safety seriously, with daily sanitization of online search histories and password-protected sessions to allay Zoom bombing. And popular surge capacity bots, such as the Michelle Obama memoji and Confused Talking Cat, add an extra level of comfort.
Some Minnesota parents have resisted virtual options, despite other states’ success and the urging of public health officials, citing fears of missing out on the little things. Stacey Franklin from Rochester, Minn. expresses many first-time hybrid parent anxieties: “Billy complains about our cereal choices every morning – what if I miss his whiny voice?”
Minnesota’s hybrid parenting programs will begin right before a few major holidays, allowing time for parents to sign up for special packages. “Virtual Easter Parents” will provide an online egg hunt, while “Virtual Passover Parents” will give kids a whole new answer to the question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” For secular families, “Earth Day Parents” will ask kids to plant trees and breathe in the smell of soil – online.
And beginning in April, Minnesota’s hybrid parents will benefit from their kids’ virtual parents/bots taking care of summer planning, grandparent Zoom calls, and virtual carpooling to hybrid school.
Minnesota piloted its hybrid parenting programs this week, and over 4,000 families enrolled. Any family can sign up in the next two weeks. While the national trend is toward hybrid parenting, many parents are expected to push for all-virtual parenting during difficult developmental stages.
About the Author
Writer, artist and improviser Keren Gudeman lives in Minneapolis with her husband and 3 children. She teaches and writes about being a more playful and less stressed parent on the Improv Parenting blog. Follow her on social media @KerenGudeman.