May 29, 2020

Wednesday night I was overwhelmed with sadness and wasn’t sure why. The first few days of the week were good and my Music Together classes had gone smoothly on Zoom after a week of challenges on FB Live. It was good to see the faces of my MT families and have fun with them. We’ve also been managing to see therapy clients via a telehealth platform and those sessions seemed to be going fine with tech getting easier with more practice. Why was I so sad?

Thursday I got moving with my day and was reading through some articles that came across my feed and one caught my eye. “Zoom and Google Hangouts are Making Kids Miserable.” The post, written by Catherine Pearson and posted in the parenting section of HuffPost, jumped out at me. What if all this technology to help us stay connected and feel better is actually making it worse?

I have no intention of bashing technology or suggesting we stop using it for school, work and play, but for kids and many adults, these “virtual” connections may just remind us of what we are missing. When I teach a class online, I can see the sweet faces of my families but it’s just not the same. It is almost easier for me when I do a FB Live and I know families are there, but I can’t see them and be reminded of what we are missing by not being together.

Constant conversations on screen can also be exhausting – we get distracted by our own image, what’s happening in the background at other people’s houses, muting and unmuting etc… For young children, the ability to just “play” with your friends and interact informally in the way they do when they are together doesn’t exist when there is a screen between you. It is frustrating and no fun!

Video calls, meetings and classes have absolutely helped us manage life during the global pandemic – being able to work from home, connect with family, check-in with friends, continue with dance, music, or exercise via a screen has been a lifesaver. Like everything else though, we have to maintain some balance. If your child doesn’t want to look at a screen or is melting down after Zoom calls with their class, maybe there is something else going on. It may not even be that directly linked. You may have a child who is increasingly angry, sad or anxious – consider the possibility that their virtual world could be contributing.

Like us, kids are sad and many are anxious. Unlike us, they had no time to prepare for all of this and no control over their life during it. One day they were in school and the next day they were not. While we can’t fix this for them we can give them space to share their feelings. We can help them figure out how they can feel some control over their environment. If they are struggling to do school online, help them create a structure that gives them a break from the screen. Talk with their teachers about how things are going and let them help. Turn off the video sometimes and just use the audio. If you have young children and are doing an interactive program like a music class or a fitness experience, don’t worry about whether your child is watching the screen. To really engage them, model for them what you are seeing on the screen and let them engage with you!

While many parents are concerned that children are missing out on socialization experiences, video calls aren’t going to fill that void, especially given how some children are responding to them. What does fill the void is socializing with your child’s first “community” – the family that they live with. Make sure that you are spending time together talking, playing, working. While we all miss our friends, we learn to be social creatures by interacting with people of all ages in person. Think about pioneer families and the isolation they endured for months at a time! They found ways to work, play and entertain each other, learning how to cooperate and engage in socially appropriate ways while doing so.

Last, don’t forget the value of boredom. You do not need to fill every moment of everyday with screens or anything else. Learning to entertain themselves is something that will serve children for a lifetime. Provide them with books, craft materials (clean recyclables can be magic!), some boxes, just about anything BUT a screen, and see what they create. Go outside and let them lead the way – supervise from a developmentally appropriate distance, but let them explore the interesting nooks and crannies of nature. Even if they aren’t “fighting” screen time, if they are acting out, consider the possibility that the added video load is too much and pull it back for a bit.