Helping kids stay in touch while social distancing

Lynn JataniaIt’s looking more and more like social distancing could go on for several months. Our school board has announced that computer-based learning from home will be introduced shortly; other provinces have announced school closures running through to the end of the year and we expect ours to follow suit soon.

When I told my youngest daughter, who is a solid extrovert, that she should prepare herself for an extended period of shutdown, she cried. She had really been hanging on to the idea that it was only for two weeks. While her dad and I have been working from home, and her two older siblings are happy to solo the day away with video games and reading, she’s been suffering the most from a lack of social contact.

So right away, we started talking about how we could make things better. How could she keep in touch with her friends virtually? We’re lucky to live in a time where this is possible and already a few of her friends’ parents have gotten in touch with me to see if we can set something up. Plus, we know that for school-aged kids, the Canadian Pediatric Society suggests prioritizing screen activities that are educational, active or social. There are many benefits to keeping kids engaged socially online. Here’s what we’re trying so far:

Hangouts Chat Room

Our youngest, who’s almost 13 years old, doesn’t have a phone but she has her own Android tablet and a Gmail account, so she can use Hangouts to message and chat with people, one-on-one or in groups. A friend from her class has started a group chat there for anyone from her grade at her school, and there they can drop in and chat with others whenever they like. She’s been checking it a few times a day for activity.

Instagram Direct Messaging

I just learned this week that Instagram’s Direct Messaging actually has a video call feature, which you can use one-on-one or in groups. Most of my daughter’s friends are 13 or close to it – the recommended minimum age for Instagram – and so there has been a rush to get an account by most of her close circle of friends. We talked about how the video chat could be used for a twice-weekly “coffee date” where her circle of buds will all log in for a group talk, and my daughter was very excited. We’re planning on having a theme for each coffee date, as sometimes on video chat, teens are at a loss for what to say. We might have everyone watch the same movie in advance so they can talk about that, or maybe work on a similar craft together, or all follow the same recipe at the same time.

Facebook’s Messenger Kids

My younger sister has two very social boys in the lower grades, and she doesn’t want them to have their own social media accounts. But on Facebook Messenger, you can create a kids’ account as a sub-account of your own, and allow them to chat or send audio and visual messages to their friends with your close supervision. She’s set up an account for her boys and is helping them use it to stay in touch with their buddies.

Zoom, Skype and Facetime

There’s nothing like the classic video call to keep in touch! These options are working best for us right now to stay in touch with family; we gather as a clan and call our parents or the kids’ aunts and cousins, and have a little check-in session with them as a group.

Hopefully all of these put together will help my daughter feel connected and less like a prisoner in her own home for the next few months. What are you using to keep in touch?

Resources on social media and staying connected: