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Children — but also parents — adapt to life over video chat during coronavirus pandemic

With many parts of the U.S. now almost a month into seemingly open-ended orders to stay home, the novelty of moving life online has begun to wear off.
Image: A school kid socializes with peers online following school closures due the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London
A school kid socializes with peers online following school closures due the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, on March 20, 2020.Anais Aguerre / via Reuters

After taking a hard line against her daughter's screen time, stay-at-home orders have pushed Annie Nguyen to soften her stance.

Nguyen's 9-year-old daughter is now regularly meeting with her fourth grade class through Google Classroom, while also using Google Meet and Apple's Facetime for playdates.

It's a shift that Nguyen has also had to adjust to.

“We adamantly have restricted our kids from using devices and screen time. Even TV is very, very restricted,” Nguyen said. “And so now, it's just sort of out of control.”

Nguyen, like parents across the U.S., is figuring out life under the lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“These poor kids are online for so many hours during the day, and then they've got homework. They've got to return, somehow submit it digitally," Nguyen said. “And so you know, it's a little bit more screen time than we are comfortable with.”

With many parts of the U.S. now almost a month into seemingly open-ended orders to stay at home, the initial novelty of moving life online has begun to wear off. That's left parents to figure out how to incorporate digital learning, socializing and activity into already-packed schedules.

Michelle O’Connor, vice president of marketing and community for Uphold, a FinTech startup, is one of millions of parents across the country who is now working from home and balancing her child’s virtual schedule along with her own.

“It’s really tough because normally kids go to school, and there’s no school and there’s no caregivers and we can’t go to the park," O'Connor said. "So, it’s kind of this new normal that’s tough for parents, and it’s just adjusting to it.”

Chat pirouette

While there’s not an exact date in sight in which schools and businesses will resume as normal, President Donald Trump on Sunday extended social distancing guidelines through April 30, and some part of the country have extended stay-at-home orders to May.

Staying at home has also meant a readjustment around screen time and supervision at a time when parents have become more concerned over how technology is affecting their children.

“We have calls and meetings and work at the same time as class,” Nguyen said. “We've got to be in different rooms and so we can't monitor the chat controls the entire time and we check in as much as we can.”

But with no other options, screens are now the go-to for just about everything — including ballet.

Every morning, O'Connor's 3-year-old daughter, Elle, is decked out in her pink ballet tutu, watching through an iPad as an instructor leads her class through a basic ballet warmup. The virtual classes are now around 30 to 45 minutes of her daily routine.

“It definitely helps," O'Connor said. "The stress levels are increased because you’re kind of not 100 percent doing anything, but I think everyone kind of understands that this is just a random occurrence and everyone’s doing whatever they can.”

O’Connor also said that her company now has an internal Slack channel for parents to talk about what their kids are up to.

“It’s been kind of nice in that way, where people are more open to talking about their kids,” O’Connor said.

'Keep things positive'

For the children, video-based classes and meetups offer a dose of normalcy, which parents can also appreciate.

Kim Kusiciel teaches fourth grade in Arlington Heights, a suburb of Chicago, and has also been sharing videos to connect with her classroom daily. She's also the mother of Danielle, 9, who has her own slate of activities.

She said the parents of her class have been appreciative of her digital presence.

“Their parents just keep sending me thank you emails saying how much it means to them that their child still gets to see my face and hear my voice,” Kusiciel said. “I’m trying to keep things positive for them.”

Kusiciel said that her school district has done a great job of connecting kids to their classrooms through technology. However, she is worried about her own community and communities across the country that do not have access to technology and that it could possibly cause an academic slide that she said typically happens during the summer.

“I am personally worried about that and how that's going to be different when we all come back to school.”

'A crisis situation'

Some child experts have released studies warning against allowing children to spend too much time in front of screens. One published by JAMA Pediatrics links an extended amount of screen time to possibly stunting children’s development.

However, Joshua Rosenthal, president of Manhattan Psychology Group, said that these are unique circumstances.

“A lot of parents are afraid of that, and I just say don't worry about it,” Rosenthal said. “This is a crisis situation.”

Rosenthal also said that it is crucial for children to socialize even if it's over video.

“It's important because it's the closest thing we have to normal social interaction, you know, with everyone being quarantined,” Rosenthal said. “So, we're trying to create as much normalcy, as much normal behavior, as possible and video gets you there much closer than phone.”

“You know, they're texting and that's OK, but the face to face is going to have so many more benefits, mostly around nonverbal cues, facial expressions, all the nonverbal that you can't get from just texting alone,” Rosenthal said.

Some parents are hoping to make the best of it. Justin Cook's son, Beckett, 7, from outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, has taken over his dad’s home office for his own Zoom meetings with his first grade classroom.

Cook said that it took his own team nearly a month to be comfortable enough to turn on their cameras for Zoom meetings, but that his son took to it without a second thought.

"I think it’s important for all of us to be adaptable," Cook said. "Kids are just so naturally adaptable."