For many school districts, the shut down began in the middle or towards the end of March. This means that for nearly half of the students around the country, their educational experience for the final 10-12 weeks of the school year has been very different than they were expecting.
In some districts like Chicago Public Schools which began the year with a teacher strike, this has been a very challenging year for administrators, teachers, students and their families.
As humans, we are incredibly adaptable. We learn. We grow. We figure things out. However, our ability to game plan and map things out becomes more difficult when we don’t yet have clear guidance on when everything will return to normal. In addition, it’s also important that we acknowledge to our kids that this school year did not work out the way any of us were expecting.
In times of challenge, it is important to invest our energies in normalizing our experiences as much as possible. Instead of ignoring medical guidelines about social distancing, it is important to recognize our constraints and develop creative solutions within those boundary conditions to make the best of a challenging situation.
First and foremost, it’s important to acknowledge that while our children love their families; they are missing their friends. There is a key element to their social emotional development that comes from friendship and the associated interactions.
Second, while families are now sharing communal spaces; this is not how parents and kids normally interact with each other. Typically, parents are not trying to manage home schooling and their professional responsibilities for the majority of the day.
Finally, kids want the adults in their lives to help narrate the situation. The reality is that many of us don’t yet know how this crisis is going to resolve and how behaviors and interactions are going to change as a result of it. The truth is we are all just trying to make it through each day.
So, what can we do to help our kids make it through these challenging times without creating a lasting negative impact on their adolescent development?
Below are 3 ways that we can help kids experience the joy of community during these difficult times:
1. Plug into existing established virtual communities that mirror their interests
Technology platforms like Minecraft, Roblox & Scratch that are geared towards young people have done an excellent job around creating a community of engaged users. Due to the educational nature of these platforms, users can often not only play these games with each other but they can also learn interesting tips and tricks about how to level up their skills to have a better experience.
Since these platforms are designed to provide a canvas for creativity and ideas, parents can feel good that there is an opportunity to learn how to build and hack within these environments in a way that a more structured gaming environment may not offer.
2. Leverage technology & trust to reduce the challenges of social distancing
For many parents, myself included, one of the most difficult challenges to manage is the amount of time kids spend on their devices. In typical times, we ask that they be present during family time (meals, movies, game night, etc..).
However, doing the current times, it’s important to trust their insights and intuitiveness about how they would like to use their devices to better connect with their friends. Personally, I’ve been impressed with how my kids are essentially live-streaming their daily study pods with small groups of friends as they work through their remote/e-learning assignments.
Since, many schools are either not yet able to offer live-streaming sessions, kids are taking it upon themselves to create the social interaction they are so desperate for. By trusting them to take things in a direction that we might not have considered, we give them the agency to develop and apply their problem solving skills to the current situation in ways that we may not have considered.
3. Joining new communities or explore different interests
One of the great joys of adolescence is exploration & experimentation. Kids needs space to develop their identity and their own unique self confidence to navigate the world as adults. Normally, schools provide for a rich opportunity to figure out who one is and your subsequent place in the world.
Students can typically see lots of their peers simultaneously developing and becoming who they are. Since most students are now out of school, it’s important that we give kids the opportunity to discover themselves.
There may be communities that they are interested in learning more about that they could’ve explored in an after school club or extracurricular activity. These communities still exist. However, they are now virtual. In recognition of this evolving environment, it’s important to give students a chance to explore new hobbies or a new skill that they may have discovered in school but now may have to encounter on their own.
For my kids, I've challenged them to develop websites for business ideas they have always been curious about exploring. My daughter has decided to learn more about photography and photo editing. While my son is educating himself on the secondary market for re-selling high quality brand name sneakers.
Not only is it interesting to see that they have expanded beyond the traditional lawn care or lemonade stand businesses of many of their peers but it enables them to learn something important about themselves during a time when experimentation and exploration are low risk. In essence, it’s the perfect low floor, high ceiling learning opportunity that is ideal to continue discovering themselves in a way that they may not have been willing to take advantage of if the external environment hadn't rapidly changed in an unexpected way.
While we’re figuring everything out and doing the best we can of our most precious natural resources - our kids; it’s important to recognize from a developmental and psychological perspective that kids still need to grow. Feeling a sense of community and belonging is one of the best ways to successfully navigate an environment that none of us expected. But, once we come out the other side, it’s important that our kids remember their experiences during this period as generally positive and developmentally appropriate.