Your children are living through a very unique period of time that is far from normal, thank goodness. But here is a question; do you think what your children are experiencing now, what I call the pandemic lifestyle, will carry over in your children’s lives after the pandemic passes? What will be the lasting effects of the pandemic lifestyle on your children and are there benefits of this lifestyle? An interesting question and as you may imagine, I have some thoughts on the matter which you are about to hear.
How has life changed in the Covid-19 era for children- What I see as the positives?
I have a confession to make. My medical partners used to accuse me of seeing the world through rose colored glasses. In our meetings, they would always tell me to “take off those rose-colored glasses”. Well, maybe they were right? I tend to try and find the silver lining whenever possible in most situations, and I guess the Covid-19 pandemic is no exception. I actually see a lot of positives in the radical shift in lifestyle that children have experienced recently in America. Yes, so much of your children’s lives are different but sometimes, change is good. No, I am not blind to all the trauma and uncertainty that children are experiencing now, but all the change just might promote growth. Here are a few examples of how I see the pandemic improving the lives of your children today and possibly in the future:
- More outdoor time. Childhood was once an outdoor activity. If you are over 50 years old, you know what I am talking about. Life before video games and ubiquitous screens. Well, it’s coming back! Craving the outdoors has become fashionable again and riding bikes is definitely in! There are actually more bicycles riding around my neighborhood than cars, mostly driven by children. I love seeing children outside, playing traditional games without screens or any electronics. Throwing balls, riding their bikes, swinging, or just digging in the dirt. I even see children in my neighborhood sitting outside reading…a book! Wow. How retro is that! That takes me back to a time gone by. Will this last after restrictions are lifted? I think to some degree, yes. Children are rediscovering the outdoors and active vigorous play. When I was a child, the worst thing your parents could say to you was… “you need to come inside” or “you can’t go out and play.” I hope that attitude is coming back for your children.
- Routines have changed-With no organized sports or other activities, I see the pressures of time having been relieved from the children in my neighborhood and they seem happier for it. Their academic days have been shortened and their play time has been lengthened. Fortunately, I don’t see very tired children coming home from school at 4:00, not having had much down time since arriving at school at 7:30am. No, I see children coming out of their homes in the early afternoon looking more energized and raring to go. Will this translate to a change in the way that children go to school in the future? Could we have discovered that school days are too long for the youngest children? and that “Hybrid education” be best for children? Or, will virtual learning at home, with no bricks and mortar school experience, become the new normal? Could self-paced learning, done remotely from large schools, really take hold in America? I’m not sure but I do predict that we are going to see far more home schooling and tele-learning in the future. I think the pandemic has opened our eyes to considering alternatives to what we knew as school in our childhoods.
- The Health of Children May Improve– Could the pandemic lifestyle have the benefit of improving your children’s health? With children getting more fresh air and exercise, I think it is logical to think that your children will also get fewer sicknesses than they did when they were in close proximity to hundreds of children every day. That means less strep throat, fewer colds and respiratory viruses, and less diarrheal illnesses. All great things. But more tree climbing, chasing one another, and racing down hills probably may mean more broken bones, head injuries, and lacerations. I hope not. And here is something to think about – could all that running around translate into better sleep at night, maybe ending the all too common sleep disorders pediatricians have been seeing among children? I hope so. And maybe if the less scheduled lifestyle persists in the post-pandemic America, a lot of the anxiety and stress related disorders will begin to fade away as well- things like recurrent stomachaches and headaches that have increasingly plagued contemporary children. Add to all this the fact that hand hygiene and washing of one’s hands has been turned into an art form. I feel certain that the hand washing habit will persist in the post pandemic world in which your children will live. And handshaking and fist bumps… those dinosaurs will only be found in photographs from yesteryear but not in their daily lives. And finally, let’s not forget another really important lesson from the Covid-19 pandemic…. isolating oneself when we are sick. That is another habit that hopefully will become the norm of the future for your children and all of us.
- The Food Your Children are Consuming is Likely Different, and Maybe Better? Children have experienced a tsunami of change when it comes to what and where they are eating. The days of the family eating out 3-5 times a week has come to an abrupt halt, at least for a while. Before the pandemic, it was estimated that 40-60% of all the food children were eating was done outside their homes. Calorie-laden, large-portioned, sugar and fat rich foods had crept into the American child’s diet over the past few decades. That trend came to a jolting halt with social distancing. Shopping, cooking, and eating at home is the new reality. I think eating at home has likely led to smaller portions of more nutritious foods – hopefully more fruits and vegetables as well as less processed foods. And I hope children are increasingly eating what the rest of the family is eating, not the low-quality industrial foods marketed toward children. Will the new eating reality persist once the pandemic passes? I certainly hope so. Maybe if parents get frightened enough about bad economic times to come, gardening will even come back into fashion. Boy, working the soil is old school, but great for children in so many ways.
- Children are More Likely to See Acts of Kindness– A crisis can bring out the best in everyone? In fact, they usually do. There are a lot of people who are losing their jobs and facing a lot of uncertainty as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Previously healthy people are getting sick and needing help with the basics. Your children may even have some up close experience with death in their community. All of this makes it more likely that your children will see you discussing and finding ways of helping others in your community. People helping people gives children a role model to emulate in the future. Not only are your kids learning how to help those in need today, but they are getting primed to help with future crises.
- Parental Influence Increased- And one final benefit of the pandemic lifestyle. I think there is no doubt that when children are living under “sheltering” restrictions, around their parents all day and night, relatively isolated from their peers, that the influence of a you, the parent, has been heightened and the influence of your children’s peers, diminished. How can that be you ask? Because your children are getting a greater dose of seeing the world through your lens. They are much more likely to have a chance to hear what you think about things and discuss events around them. Your life perspective has been moved to greater importance if for no other reason than your children are now constantly under your care and hearing your opinions and observations about the world. I see this as a positive for most children. All this interaction time gives both you and your children more time to understand one another and listen to one another’s feelings. In other words, learn to have more appreciation for one another. What could be better than that as a parent?
Well, I warned you that I own quite a few pairs of rose-colored glasses and I use them frequently. Since we have so little control over the pandemic that we find ourselves in currently, we might as well choose to see the positives of our situation. That’s my attitude. What’s yours. I would love to hear your comments which you can leave on my blog at www.docsmo.com. shore your thoughts with others. And I would appreciate you rating my podcast on iTunes to help others discover my content. Thanks. This is Dr. Paul Smolen, broadcasting from studio 1E, hoping that the benefits of the pandemic lifestyle, will carry over for a while. Until next time.