There are hopeful signs all around us of a more normal summer. Vaccination numbers continue to rise while cases of Covid decrease. There is also hope for the opportunity for those in the 12–15 age group to be vaccinated. Summer camp enrollments are in full swing, and you may even be contemplating traveling. This all sounds promising, but after almost 15 months of remote school, limited sports and after-school activities, masks, and social distancing, we must ask, are our children ready? Many of us have let screen time limits slide and bent the rules on video games and social media to provide some form of connection for our kids, but now as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, how do we help our children reenter a more normal world?
MEET THEM WHERE THEY ARE
I recently listened to a great parenting podcast that gave sound advice to meet your children where they are, especially as it relates to this. Don’t force them back into life if they aren’t ready. I like the visual of holding their hands and slowly walking into the water instead of pushing them off the high dive. Many of us have had to deal with new emotions or feelings in our children — fear, anxiousness, and even depression. Living through a pandemic is scary, add to that being inundated with death tolls, outbreaks, and having to distance from the people they love most — family and friends. Some children may be ready to dive in and are looking to summer as a chance to reconnect, so camp may be just the right call.
CONNECTING IN PERSON
Between remote learning and using screens to connect with their friends safely, the amount of screen time drastically increased for children this past year — in our house it went through the roof. While they have gotten comfortable “playing with friends” this way, as the world begins to open again, we need to encourage, gently nudge, and help them figure out how to connect again in person. We know much more than we did a year ago, so navigating outside play dates or activities can be done. Technology provided us many valuable resources during the pandemic, but we also came to value how important in-person connection, is and no screen can emulate that.
We also have some catching up to do. Our children have lost over a year of social emotional growth. While they have learned to be resilient, they also must relearn how to read body language that they couldn’t see on a screen or facial expressions that have been covered by masks. They need to collaborate and work together without the fear of touching one another or getting too close.
KEEP COMMUNICATION OPEN
Long after we have the virus under control, we will still be dealing with the educational and mental health fallouts from this past year. I have had several conversations with well-respected pediatricians and family psychologists, and each has said that mental health issues are being seen at much younger ages, and there is simply too much demand and not enough professionals to help struggling children and families.
So we need to keep checking in with our children and practicing our own self-care. Take a moment to play a board game, do a puzzle, or take a hike, where we can dive a little deeper and they can feel a safe, calm place to open up. For older kids, especially tweens and teens, I find a car ride is the best place for these moments — if you tell them to put their phones away. It feels less threatening if they don’t have to look at you, and you aren’t staring at them with peppering questions. There is a part of me that feels like teens, especially those who see light at the end of the tunnel, will throw it into overdrive trying to race to catch up on everything they may have missed out on. This could be drinking, drugs, or dating/relationships. Listen and be present. They will make mistakes, but keep the communication open and as honest as possible.
As we reenter the outside world and help our children navigate this, remember to be patient. Not everyone in your family or outside your family may be moving at the same pace. Also, be kind, give yourself and others grace after a year filled with stress and anxiety. Last, when safe, hug those loved ones a little longer or smile at a stranger on the street. We all learned how quickly these simple things can be taken away, so let’s enjoy them and not take them for granted ever again.
Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive conversations around social media and technology. [email protected]