When is it okay for kids to hang out with other kids?
I’m not talking sleepovers and participating in contact youth sports here, although I look forward to those days in the future. I’m simply seeing some negatives associated with nine weeks of social isolation for my kids for different reasons.
As an introvert with Autism, Carson, 10, seems to be relishing the home school life. He likes the one-on-attention from his mother who helps him in a fun, productive way through his class work. He enjoys having his brother around and showing off his math prowess to him. However, we know this extended school closure will come with major consequences for Carson in the long term. Returning to school in the fall is going to come with incredible challenges. He’s going to struggle immensely with the change in his routine and adapting to his new school surroundings.
The return to school is months away so we have time to prepare him for this transition, but my expectations for how well he functions initially will be low. When September rolls around, it will be almost six months since he’s been in a school environment. Neuro typical kids will need time to adjust as well to the rules and structure of school. Though I know it’s not a definite schools will reopen on time in September, it’s better for my psyche to think all will be safe by then.
For Beckett, he enjoyed the lax lifestyle associated with homeschool the first month or so. He liked participating in Zoom class lessons in his pajamas and in the comfort of his bedroom. While he still enjoys these aspects, it’s clear he’s starting to feel lonely and misses the social interactions. The toll of social isolation is real on mental health and I’m concerned about it.
Over the last week or so, Beckett has been saying he’s bored a lot more often. I go outside with him and play sports. We go for walks. We conquer yard projects. We play soccer with his brother. It’s just not the same. He needs to be with kids his own age. It’s crucial for his social development and mental wellbeing.
Beckett turned 12 years old this week. Pam and I had been commiserating over not being able to go to the beach and do something special for him until I had an idea that I thought might work.
I have been seeing the Kona Ice truck around Berlin recently and wandered if we could have it come to our house to surprise him on his birthday. I initially worried about how many snow balls we were going to have to order to make it worth his while. I even started contemplating how they would keep in the freezer if a certain minimum was needed.
What unfolded next was an interesting conversation I bet a lot of parents are having right now. Would it be wrong to invite some friends to come have a snow ball outside on us and wish him happy birthday from afar? Would parents be upset at the mere notion? Is it silly of us to even think about getting kids together again?
After overthinking it, we decided we were going to book the snow ball truck and invite a dozen or so friends to come to our house, have a cold treat outside and surprise him with some birthday love. As the truck pulled up, he said, “you guys got this for me.” We told him not just for you as some friends walked up the driveway. He asked what about quarantine and we told him it’s okay we are outside and just keep your distance.
The result was incredibly exciting. It turns out many parents are ready to get back into society slowly. The majority of those invited came. Those who did not respond might have been offended. We wouldn’t know because we never heard back. Beckett did hear from one friend who said he couldn’t come because his mom was scared of the coronavirus.
It was an interesting test to see where we are in society right now. As a couple of Beckett’s friends came toward the Kona truck, I observed Beckett take a few steps back and say, “six feet.” A few minutes later, a friend came right up close to him and Beckett repeated it. While it was probably the responsible thing to say, it was an image that really stuck with me days later. He’s spooked.
We are fooling ourselves if don’t assume there are serious consequences from this social isolation. I don’t think my son’s friend was coming close to give him a hug or high five. He was just walking up to him instinctually and Beckett cautioned him not to come closer.
This was at the beginning of our little get together. By the end, he was running around the yard with friends and having conversations about school and the summer. It did my soul good to hear some giggles, random screams and weird inside kid talk about something stemming from school. It was confirmation to me kids are resilient and there will be some normalcy again. These kids have adapted to this new world and they will do what’s needed to be done.
As we were looking through the posters later his friends made for him, Beckett hugged Pam and me. The surprise meant a lot to him and he was grateful. He needs to be around people in his own age and to socialize.
I think we all are needing some of that.