Parental Mentalizing During a Pandemic: Use of Mental-State Language on Parenting Social Media Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Tal Yatziv, Almog Simchon, Nicholas Manco, Michael Gilead, Helena J.V. Rutherford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a demanding caregiving context for parents, particularly during lockdowns. In this study, we examined parental mentalization, parents’ proclivity to consider their own and their child’s mental states, during the pandemic, as manifested in mental-state language (MSL) on parenting social media. Parenting-related posts on Reddit from two time periods in the pandemic in 2020, March to April (lockdown) and July to August (postlockdown), were compared with time-matched control periods in 2019. MSL and self–other references were measured using text-analysis methods. Parental mentalization content decreased during the pandemic: Posts referred less to mental activities and to other people during the COVID-19 pandemic and showed decreased affective MSL, cognitive MSL, and self-references specifically during lockdown. Father-specific subreddits exhibited strongest declines in mentalization content, whereas mother-specific subreddits exhibited smaller changes. Implications on understanding associations between caregiving contexts and parental mentalization, gender differences, and the value of using social-media data to study parenting and mentalizing are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
JournalClinical Psychological Science
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • mental-state language
  • parental mentalization
  • social media
  • stress

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