Across the globe, children and young people’s learning and development has been disrupted by the pandemic. According to UNICEF, schools for more than 168 million children closed for almost a full year, and 188 countries imposed national school closures during the pandemic, affecting more than 1.6 billion children and young people. It’s no surprise that a dramatic rise in child screen time has been observed worldwide, signalling unavoidable side effects of pandemic lockdowns and social distancing measures.
Whilst the Australian Government’s response to the pandemic has been more effective than other countries, much like many other nations, psychological distress has worsened for children and young people during the pandemic and existing societal inequalities have been exacerbated. The devolved federal structure of the Australian education system, and unequal access to technology across school communities meant that experiences of school-led remote learning have varied substantially.
The concerns around inequalities and psychological distress are echoed in a report from PwC, which revealed that the top three concerns for teachers were; social isolation, a decrease in student wellbeing and learning loss. 80% of teachers in the region believed students would need extra instructional support when they return to school.
However, school-led remote learning is not exactly a new concept for Australians, and research from Monash University shows perceived merit in a hybrid or more flexible approach to schooling with some young people actually flourishing with the blended learning approaches, including students who were previously disengaged from education.
Now that summer is here and our children and young people are taking a well-earned break, as parents and carers it’s a good moment to take some time out ourselves to reflect on last year and create a plan for when our children return to school. Below we explore some tips on how to help them grow and succeed while they balance this new reality:
Re-engage your child with the joy of learning with a focus on social and emotional wellbeing. Check out a recent collection of tips from psychological and educational professionals on how to create engaging at-home learning experiences to support cognitive and social skill development, as well as encourage self-expression and emotion regulation in your children.
If your child’s school has provided them with devices for online learning, check that the device has safeguarding software installed. If it doesn’t, speak to your child’s school about putting safeguards and filters in place.
If you don’t already do so, engage with your child around their online lives. Ask them to show you what games they are currently playing and play with them. This way, you will get to assess any risks the game or platform may have. Ask them about their favourite social media platform and why they like using it. Showing interest without judgment can open up conversations about this topic and create a safe place for both you and your child to openly share experiences and perspectives on the subject.
Ask them about their life and friends they might have met both online and off. 15 years ago, most parents would be able to name their children’s best friends. There would be birthday parties, sleep overs and a range of activities that would bring their children’s friends and their parents into contact with each other. However, with the introduction of the internet and smart phones, many young people keep their communications online. This situation has been exasperated by the global pandemic as your children may have been restricted from seeing their friends face-to-face and may have struck up new friendships online.
If the COVID restrictions in your area and your personal circumstances permit it, explore safe ways to set up an outdoor playtime for your child and one of their friends. Over the course of the pandemic, children have missed out on spending time with their friends, which is an important part of developing social skills (e.g., understanding physical conversation cues and teamwork). Don’t forget to get to know the parents of your child’s friends – in addition to agreeing to any rules for playtime and potentially gaining another perspective on your child’s development when they are out of your sight, you can assess if there are any concerns about these parents and ensure your child is in a safe environment while spending time at their friend’s house.
Address the issue of increased screen time with your child. If you have not already done so, this would be a great time to call a family meeting and collectively agree on a family contract around internet and mobile device rules in your home.
Go for a walk or hike together with your child in nature. Being outdoors is beneficial to your child’s physical development, and exercise has a positive impact on their physical and mental health.
Encourage your child to explore offline activities that bring them joy and allow them to express themselves in positive and constructive ways. It doesn’t need to be anything too complex – it may at times feel impossible to explore new hobbies from within our homes, however small activities such as painting, dancing to great music or simply dusting off that old guitar can often help widen our perspective in life and help us manage daily experiences and emotions in a different way.