It feels like we’ve jumped almost blindly into the future with the demands that the pandemic has created this year, in terms of our increased reliance on technology and moving to virtual just about everything. There have been some unexpected positives for some, like eliminating commutes and replacing them with more time at home for family. But there are always trade-offs as well, like rapid weight gain (the Quarantine15) and longer workdays due to our new more sedentary #WFH lives.
In the meantime, we talk a lot about the intellectual effects of having a stunted school year last year and operating largely remotely this school year. That’s been enough of a challenge. But the larger question for me is how will this pandemic affect our children’s social and emotional development?
To me, as a mom, it’s not just about the risk of illness and a second wave of COVID-19 that’s hanging constantly over our heads. It’s just as much about the day-to-day effects of an education that is markedly different and largely experimental this year. I want all four of my children to have academic success, as does any parent, but at what cost?
Finding mental health resources for children
There has been a lot of talk about the emotional toll that the current health crisis and school changes may have had on the nation’s children. So, where can we turn to for help? Research institutions can offer helpful answers.
The Child Mind Institute, a “national nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders,” offers a COVID-19 Child and Adolescent Mental Health Tipsheet. Among those tips, the institute recommends not being afraid to discuss the Coronavirus with your children, acknowledging your own anxiety to them, and watching for signs and symptoms of anxiety or depression. There is a list of symptoms for both on the tipsheet. It’s better to get ahead of the problem than to miss it altogether.
Who’s Teaching Who?
Okay, so on a lighter note (putting on my educator cap now), we also want to be careful of where our homeschoolers and remote learners have been sourcing their information, especially if they’re returning to the classroom. For instance, when it comes to resources, there’s virtual and then there’s virtual. I think our children are already overly reliant on technology as a source of credible information, at least in my household.
I can’t tell you how many times a day I hear, “Alexa, what’s the…?” And she answers, obligingly, to most of their requests. But is that a good thing? I don’t think developers had fifth grade math in mind when they were perfecting their virtual personal assistant technology. Or maybe they did. But I think we, the parents, may pay the price later in the classroom…
Siri, did you get that? The new math is not for the faint of heart, but not even Siri or Alexa has all the answers. There have been so many jokes across social media about the irreparable damage that suddenly homeschooling parents may have done earlier this year. I can hear my ten-year-old now saying to the teacher: “But Alexa said…” or “Siri told me…” Hey, it wasn’t me (*shrug*). I’m sure we’ll all have to do some deprogramming at some point.
Yet, ultimately, as our children return to school, whether now or in the spring, we have to learn to work together and help each other with understanding new technologies. And we have to have a little grace with the teachers who are putting in the work. I think that’s a great place to begin as we move forward. In the end, we all have our children’s best interest at heart.
Regina Cash-Clark is a wife and mother of four (twins plus two) who lives in Somerset, Franklin Township. She teaches writing as a full-time faculty member at Ramapo College of New Jersey.