Hey Mama, how ya doing? Hanging on by a thread? Same, same.
But amidst all the worrying about schools and pods and daily case counts, many parents are also up at night with a far more existential question: How will this absolutely bonkers year affect our children, long-term?
We checked in with the experts—two pediatricians and a pediatric psychologist—to learn what they’re seeing, what they’re fearing and how they think the current world will shape our kids’ lives. (Spoiler: It’s not all bad.)
1. Kids will be more technologically savvy and computer literate
Does your 4-year-old now know how to un-mute himself? Is your budding Mia Hamm completely comfortable with Zoom soccer lessons? While we parents may look on in horror, the fact is that this pandemic will inevitably make our children more computer literate, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Says pediatric phycologist Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart, “Due to distance learning and less face-to-face time, younger children have learned how to use devices, apps and programs they didn't previously have access or exposure to. And since we all have different learning styles, these different methods have hopefully shown them, along with their parents and teachers, how they learn best.” In other words, since the start of the pandemic, many kids have naturally adapted to new (virtual) ways to learn and socialize. And rather than see this as a crutch or impediment to “real” learning, we’re better off considering it as one more tool in their educational toolbox.
Even self-described screen-time critics are scaling it back, calling on parents to simply to be more mindful of what kids are doing online, rather than limiting hours or devices altogether.
2. They will be more anxious and wary of social interaction
It’s no surprise that half a year of teaching our children to stay away from other people has made them more scared of other people. And doctors say this is translating to actual, diagnosable anxiety. Dr. Mary Ellen Renna, a pediatrician in Jericho, NY, has noticed “a rapid increase in anxiety disorders in children,” and notes that “the sudden changes of not being able to go to school or go out and see friends has an impact on us all, but especially the children who are too young to have an understanding of what is happening.”
Dr. Sara Kopple, a pediatrician in New Rochelle, NY, agrees: "Teaching kids that intimacy with your peers is bad and pathologizing it will be hard to undo,” she says, noting that she’s seen this anxiety manifest physically: “There’s been a real increase in bladder and bowel issues in my practice. I think it’s because it’s one of the few areas where small kids have complete control.”
What can parents do? Open communication, mindfulness and generally reminding our kids that it’s our job to keep them safe. But, to some extent, the anxiety of 2020 is unavoidable. “Now that we're asking so many schools and districts to open back up, there will be a lot of push-back, anxiety and fear,” Dr. Lockhart maintains.
3. But they may have more meaningful relationships with family and friends
Yes, we’re all spending a lot of time together. And while this is beyond frustrating for parents, for many children, it’s actually a terrific time to bond and develop a sense of security, which can translate to increased self-esteem and happiness down the road. Says Dr. Lockhart: “I have personally experienced a closeness with my children I wouldn't have when they were at school all day. I have seen my kids through a different lens, and I really like it.”
This may also mean increased closeness with extended family. (Weekly FaceTime with Great Grandma? Check!) Or stronger relationships with neighbors, cousins or pod-mates. Dr. Kopple, in fact, predicts a rise in mixed-age socialization, as children engage in outdoor play with neighborhood kids, as opposed to formal playdates. “That sort of relationship development is really sweet and valuable,” she says. “Big kids get a chance to practice being responsible and being in charge. Little kids do a lot of modeling from the big kids."
4. Obesity and overeating might become larger problems
The Covid 15 is real people, and it’s serious when it comes to children’s health. Dr. Renna has noticed “many children who were very active pre-Covid, [and have now] become complacent with exercise…They lose the incentive to move and stay healthy.” And the science backs this up: According to a study out of the University of Buffalo, lockdowns across the world have negatively impacted diet, sleep and physical activity among kids. Dr. Renna elaborates: “Children who are at home on a continual basis start to eat out of boredom, which can become a dangerous habit that is hard to break and may be carried into adulthood with devastating consequences.”
5. On the flip side, kids (and schools) may get more comfortable with being outside all year
Ever heard the expression “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing?” Consider that your motto for 2020, as children and adults find increasingly creative ways to be outdoors for exercise, socialization and all-around mental health. Says Dr. Kopple: "Kids are fine, they do recess in the middle of the winter. It's the parents who have trouble with it." And as many schools embrace outdoor models, this may have a lasting impact on a generation, who will adopt not only a hardier outlook than their wussy parents (raises hand), but could see benefits like increased competence, lower stress and improved retention, according to a German study.
6. They will become more flexible and adaptable
With our understanding of the virus changing daily, it can be nearly impossible to plan for life. (Just ask anyone trying to figure out their kids’ school year right now.) But the plus side is that all this uncertainty is probably making children more flexible and less beholden to the schedules, expectations and rigidity we foist upon them.
“Children are learning that life isn't always easy, predictable or neatly planned,” says Dr. Lockhart. “As a result of this pandemic, I believe they will learn that it is OK to make plans and have goals but having flexibility and being adaptable are equally important. They will learn that it is OK to feel disappointment and then make small or very large changes as a result.”
Now let’s hope we can say the same thing of all the grownups in the room.