Gen X grew up largely without the Internet, Millennials aged alongside computers and other emerging technologies, and Gen Z is made of digital natives that don’t know life without mobile devices.
Now, with a global pandemic wreaking havoc for months now, kids are growing up enduring social distancing restrictions and mask requirements. Facing a conflict unique to recent generations, they don’t even know that the “new normal” is new or what COVID-19 is keeping them from.
Within the last month, small children all over the country began school or even daycare amidst the uncertainty that clouds the minds of both their parents and teachers. Right here in Leon County, students began in-person classes on Aug. 31. Families were presented three models: School-Based Digital Academy, Leon County Virtual School, and of course In-person instruction. Desks will be facing one direction and be placed six-feet apart where possible, according to the reopening plan on Leon County Schools’ website. Masks, a six-foot safe distance maintained at all possible times, and constant sanitization are all present in every classroom. Teachers and parents are having to adjust to school like they’ve never seen it before while their kids don’t know the difference.
Tatiana Camacho, a student at FAMU and a mother of a 3-year-old, understands the many risks and challenges of children and COVID-19 as she recently decided to homeschool her daughter. Despite being advised that children under the age of five don’t need to wear masks, she has her daughter wear one anyway, for safety and because she knows her child. Finding the masks necessary but tedious herself, Camacho works every day to instill the importance of them into her daughter, Jaliyah.
“I’m trying to teach her, but it’s hard,” Camacho said. “She still doesn’t understand it.”
Young kids are as absorbent as sponges and as impressionable as clay. As they grow and develop into functioning parts of society, their early interactions with people are crucial. Spending time with peers is one method kids take to learn how to empathize, share, develop relationships, and make decisions, according to developmental psychologist Deborah Phillips from Georgetown University.
“Social and emotional learning begins in infancy, and social skills form the foundation for other types of learning,” Phillips said in a recent interview with The New York Times.
Even as kids in 2020 use their colorful imagination to play with dolls or action figures, the events and safety measures they see daily still take an effect. Lisa Taksa applauded her 4-year-old son’s ability to cope.
“In his play, I’ll hear him say, ‘This bear is going to the museum and he has to wear his mask,’” Taksa said in an interview with Time magazine.
Thankfully, humans are built to adapt to their environment and circumstances and have been doing it since the beginning of time. Nonetheless, the restrictions now placed on socialization will undoubtedly take a toll on the development of kids growing up during these unprecedented times.
Until things go back to normal, kids will have to sit criss-cross applesauce as their parents tell them about a world they’ve never known. A world full of restaurants at 100% capacity, concerts where you’re way too close to strangers, and the privilege of seeing the entirety of someone’s face, mask-free.