Here we are again. Another year later. Another year of Covid. Of masks. Of quarantining and minimizing human “exposure.” Another year our children are falling behind, not just academically but more importantly, as young humans. For some, “life with Covid” is all these kids have known. They are continually missing play dates, social time at school, basic human interactions where they learn facial expressions and how to read people’s emotions. They’re missing out on opportunities to learn the value of sharing, physical interaction and just the art of being fantastic kids. And yes, they are adapting, as all kids do, but at what cost?
I was recently informed about the kids’ “indoor recess” so I asked my third grader about it, and her response sent me spiraling. Apparently they sit in their desks, can play games on their iPads – but not really real games with each other because they aren’t supposed to get up and interact with one other due to social distancing requirements. And until recently, outdoor recess was set up into zones so kids couldn’t even play with their friends in other classes. Did I mention this was their RECESS? Isn’t recess by definition about playing with friends and burning energy so their young brains could then focus once again on academics? Sigh…
So far in just four months my son has missed 20 days of in-person learning due to required close-contact quarantining, and I know it’s been even more for others. His most recent 10 days at home was very eye opening (and frightful) for me. He never wanted to get up from his desk and iPad. My crazy active, happy son wanted to send his friends emojis during recess instead of spending a few minutes off the screen. He thought I was crazy when I made him spend 10 minutes doing all sorts of boot camp exercises. But come on, dude. Get Up! Overall that week my normal happy, goofy 10-year-old kid was a demon. He was extremely moody, very angry and flew off the handle for no real reason several times. The only difference in routine that week was his lack of human interaction and exponentially-increased screen time. It’s not Covid that’s causing the most direct harm to our children – it’s all the new rules and policies put in place because of it. Even in my own tight circle of friends, the amount of young kids who are experiencing severe anxiety and depression has escalated immensely. And these are your typical normal, happy, healthy kids. Society is failing our children. Covid is here to stay, and we as a society must learn to adapt accordingly, but we must do so without taking away the fundamental basics of human nature, including the way young kids grow and learn.
Last week I (along with parents across the nation) received a very disturbing email from our superintendent about a nation-wide threat via social media against schools across the country. What is happening to our country that we now need to live in perpetual fear about sending our kids to school? SCHOOL. How much more fear can we take as parents? As humans? As a country?
Lord knows I am no star parent. I have plenty of my own neurosis, unwarranted stress issues and just plain craziness. I’ve been stressed a lot this year that my kids aren’t necessarily getting the same academic scores as in previous years. (I mean I just want ONE kid to get into the University of Illinois for cryin’ out loud!) I forget all they’ve gone through and continue to do so academically. But I’ve realized (or at least am really trying to) that while yes, academics and learning IS very important, what is MORE important is growing into a kind, caring and empathetic person. We had parent teacher conferences a few weeks ago, and I was prepared for the worst (sorry, Mrs. Melin, your first grader will need to repeat first grade) but what I actually heard about my kids was how wonderful and thoughtful and curious kids they were. (And yes I thought they were BS’ing me so I questioned them to make sure they were talking about MY little monsters.) My husband remains convinced the teachers say the same thing to every parent, and while that may be true, I’m still taking it as a parenting win. Because at the end of the day, I want my kids to be known as the nice ones. I want them to be remembered for sitting with the lone kid at lunch (even if it’s six feet apart) or sticking up against the bully. If they end up being the smart kids too (or even just the one known for her fabulous makeup application) I will be thrilled, but all that should be secondary to being a good friend and just plain kind.
This year has been a definite improvement over 2020, but we still have a long way to go. We may not be able to control all the crazies, the rules, the ever-changing policies or even just plain ol’ life, but what we can control is the kind of example we set for our kids. My lesson for the upcoming year is to go above and beyond showing my little sponges about what it looks like to be a kind person. While please and thank you’s are wonderful, it’s about so much more than that. Because kids need to see – IN REAL LIFE – what this looks like. Not through Zoom, or a mask or some stupid made-for-TV “educational” show. It’s up to us at home, to fill in the current gaping societal voids. So for 2022, I challenge myself and all of you to “show these young people you’re a caring person without saying you’re a caring person.” (Maybe if I can figure out TikTok I can create my own challenge and this movement will actually get somewhere.) In the meantime, let’s walk into 2022 with open arms, visible smiling faces and a little bit of extra love for everyone. I think we all need it. Cheers.