Keeping Your Kids Connected in Charlotte, NC
It’s been about a month since Governor Cooper announced the closure of schools all across the state, and families everywhere are having to get creative in keeping kids educated and entertained. Parents have been learning to navigate unexplored territory and homeschool their children, with little direction or help from the State. With the district remaining closed until May 15, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools got the green light on April 6 to start distance learning programs for K-12 students, who are expected to participate during designated instructional hours and keep up with assignments (CMS, 2020). This may help alleviate some parental stress, since many parents were struggling to balance working from home with teaching their kids at the same time. What remote learning will not help with is your children’s need for social interaction.
Family Interaction Isn’t Enough
Just like adults, children feel the effects of loneliness and isolation. At preschool age, kids start building connections with their peers, and their dependence on playmates becomes more important. When your kids play with others, they are also stimulating their cognitive, emotional, and social skills that are essential to healthy development. Research has found that family interactions can only go so far and that social time with peers is crucial for later psychosocial development, serving as a protective factor against a variety of potential negative influences (Hay, 2005). Additionally, multiple studies link loneliness to later mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, and to disruptions in the development of brain structure in people of all stages of life. Social isolation can lead to decrease in functioning of cardiovascular and immune systems, which are key to combating viruses such as COVID-19 (Holt-Lunstad, 2017).
What Can We Do?
All of this may sound scary, but there are ways to ensure your kids are getting the vital social interaction they need. Now is the time to be a little more lax with your children’s screen time, since technology is the easiest and most effective way right now to keep your kids connected with their peers.
- Set up virtual playdates. Routinely schedule online play time with your child and a friend or two to assure they have some definite socializing in this uncertain situation. There are plenty of websites and apps you can use, such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, and JusTalk Kids, which is a safe, encrypted video chat app designed specially for kids. Your young ones can talk and play with each other, even though they are not in the same room. You can also use video conferencing so your children and their classmates can have remote study groups together and help each other with homework.
- Hold regular game and movie nights. Sites such as Pogo, Scribbl, and LetsPlayUno are free to sign up and use for your kiddos to play board and card games together while chatting over video or phone. Netflix Party, which you can use with your regular Netflix subscription, allows for your children to stream shows and movies together and chat about what they are watching in real time (they can also video chat while watching using a different site). Airtime is another streaming service your children can use to watch shows, movies, and videos while talking face-to-face over their built-in video service.
- Check out local virtual activities. Keep up to date with online entertainment that your kids and their friends can participate in together on the CharlottesGotaLot website, where you can find virtual tours and activities hosted by local museums, The NASCAR Hall of Fame, and SEA LIFE Aquarium, among others. More activities are added every day, so make sure you check on a frequent basis.
- Social video gaming. Online video gaming is a fantastic way for older kids to play and stay in touch with each other. I’m sure you are familiar with games such as Minecraft, Fortnight, Rocket League, and Mario Kart which are usually sources of irritation for parents who would like for their kids to get outside more. Many of your children will already know how to play and communicate with their friends online, and now is the time to encourage them to jump on and game.
There are tons of ways to keep your kids connected with their friends using technology. Get creative, and always remember to monitor when they are using video chatting apps. Your older adolescents and teens are probably already experts at communicating with their friends online and shouldn’t need much encouragement. If you feel that they aren’t getting enough social time, you may want to talk to them about how important it is to get some regular social interaction in.
If you start noticing negative changes in your kids and teens, they may be exhibiting signs of loneliness and stress. Thriveworks is providing therapy services for children and teens remotely during this time and is here to help you and your family. Please feel free to schedule an appointment online today or contact us with any questions or concerns you may have.
Hay DF. Early Peer Relations and their Impact on Children’s Development. In: Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Peters RDeV, eds. Boivin M, topic ed. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development
The Potential Public Health Relevance of Social Isolation and Loneliness: Prevalence, Epidemiology, and Risk Factors
Holt-Lunstad, J. Public Policy & Aging Report, 2017