But mom...friends. This is what both of my sons said to me when I told then we will be doing virtual school this year. For at least the first 9 weeks. The look on their faces-dejection, sadness, frustration, even defeat-broke my heart. They have been weathering this storm right beside us. And like many adults have felt the ups and downs, albeit a bit differently. When school first shut down they were super excited. Mom....we get to stay home! This was the general consensus. Lockdown seemed like a mini vacation. They could play online games with their friends, face time, sleep late. It was awesome. For a couple of weeks. Then the "can I JUST go outside and talk to my friends?', "Can we JUST walk around the neighborhood together?", "Can we JUST go swimming?" started. Even with device use, and their "connections" through social media, gaming, texting and face time...it wasn't enough. As restrictions lifted, they began to see friends in the neighborhood...in a limited capacity. This helped tremendously. So this provided a bit of hope...a bit of an "up" to the ups and downs everyone has been experiencing. They began workouts a couple of days a week, with guidelines in place to keep them as safe as possible. Movement is so important for our bodies. It releases endorphins and keeps up physically...and mentally healthy. So this again provided some reassurance that things were better. It gave them a small bit of connection and hope that things were getting better. The reality is what a normal spring, and then summer would have looked like...in no way resembles this season. Typically they would be at gatherings, cook outs, spending the night at friends homes, going to movies and restaurants, having dates, going to the gym daily, playing in baseball and basketball tournaments. Laughing and connecting with their friends. Hugging one another. Wrestling. If you have boys you will understand that. Spending time face to face. But all of that was taken away from them by Covid. So as they weathered that, they looked forward to starting school in the fall. And then that was removed as well. Insert another dip, another fall, another disappointment. And this round seems to be the worst. The ups and downs of the cycle is exhausting. And one of the incredibly interesting outcomes has been realizing just how much our kids need face to face interaction.
We tend to think that devices, screen time and social media are what drive our kids. And while some of that maybe true, their intrinsic desire is to be together. Lockdown, and the subsequent isolation has proven this to be true. Device time increased exponentially the first month of lock down. You Tube use rose over 200 percent. Tik Tok use and Snapchat use skyrocketed. But even with the ability to connect through these platforms, teens are begging to be together. To send time with one another. As humans we thrive from physical contact. We are built for contact from birth. The benefits of touch for babies is proven. Stanford medicine states "Skin-to-skin time in the first hour after birth helps regulate the babies temperature, heart rate, and breathing, and helps them cry less. It also increases mothers' relaxation hormones. For babies, the nine months of pregnancy may feel like one long, loving embrace." Common Sense Media reports that, despite having their eyes glued to a screen for much of the day, almost half of teens say their favorite way to talk to friends is in person. They state it is more fun and it makes it easier to understand someone. So while having devices as a means to communicate, it seems that having face to face contact is still most important for our kids and teens.
What can we do? Balancing the mental health of our children while navigating the Corona Virus is exhausting. There are a few things we can rely on. One is physical movement. If this can be done for short time spans, and safely as possible with their friends...this is a wonderful way to help combat isolation and depression our teens maybe feeling. Exploring ways that they can meet with a friend, while distancing, to have time to talk and laugh together is helpful. Discussing with your kids things they can look forward to once we are no longer having to take extreme measures is a great way to get excited about the future. Have them make a list of all of the things they want to do. Then list them in order of what they are most excited about and what they would like to do first. Having an activity to look forward to that involves their friends will provide a sense of hope that things will change in the future. Finally gently reminding your children that things will change, that we will be back with our friends, and that we will not have to take these strict precautions forever. As we continue to navigate keeping our children safe, let us not forget that devices are never a substitute for face to face connections. Helping our children to have this connection is important now more than ever.