Ever since the texting, snapping, xboxing, and Instagramming started, parents have lamented the loss of their children’s ability to engage in an old-fashioned conversation. This started years before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with the onset of a new barrier to in person social interactions, we must consider the impact of social distancing on our children’s communication skills.
What many parents and children have realized throughout this pandemic is that most of those social media interactions are based on the experiences that children are having together, in person. Typically, children consider school classes and extracurricular activities to be their most important social platforms. Online interactions exist to supplement those in person experiences. They are the modern day phone call after the party, the mixtape that you give your friends telling them the musical story of your weekend. So, without those actual experiences, Facetimes, Zooms, texting, snapping, and xboxing lose meaning, creating a similar level of social isolation that they might have felt without these platforms.
While isolation and stay-at-home orders are not permanent, social distancing is here for the foreseeable future. This is a complicated concept and practice for many people. Social distancing requires children to understand boundaries, something that is difficult for children of all ages. This means that children cannot hug, high-five, sit next to each other, or throw a ball to each other. Explaining this to a five year old, or even a 14-year-old can be tough. They might understand the concept, but the message gets muddled in practice.
From preschool through adolescence, children are struggling to find different ways to connect with their peers without the commonality of daily experiences.
Preschool and elementary school aged children do not typically have the attention span for social media. Other than playing video games, this age group does not have the social skills to engage and maintain relationships online. In person preschool offers a foundation for social development. Developing social skills and problem-solving skills requires peer interactions and large group behavioral expectations. As children progress to the elementary level, they continue to rely on in person peer interactions to refine their social skills. Without the opportunity to interact and develop “playground” and “classroom” skills, children will struggle to develop appropriate social skills and interpersonal relationships as they go forward. This means that the family unit must also morph into a social skills class. Whenever possible, families should play interactive games, read books together, ask more questions, cook, and throw a ball around to help make up for the lack of in class social interactions.
Older children, pre-teens and teens, are also at a developmental disadvantage. At this age, relationships are changing, interests are changing, and values are maturing. Learning how to navigate socially, to find friends that support them, to develop the skills for building trust and for dealing with bullying and betrayal, require in-person interactions. Once again, it is experiences that build and bind these relationships. And although many of these friendships are fleeting and fragile, they provide essential stepping stones for healthy adult relationships later in life. It is extremely challenging to build, navigate, and replicate these types of relationships over screens. Parents, families, must be able to respond to a child’s feelings of frustration under these awkward circumstances, providing a judgement-free zone and asking encouraging, guiding questions that can help adolescents manage their online social lives.
Hopefully, families can be safe spaces for children of all ages as they struggle with this new social reality. Embrace the benefits of slowing down and spending time with family. And check in with your children, be a sounding board, a playmate, an understanding ear, so that children feel less isolated in isolation.
GAMECHANGER is here to do its part to keep children engaged, building social skills, and communicating. Ask about GAMECHANGER’s small group book buddies, language lessons, writing classes, and art classes.