I started to chase after her, worried that she needed some sort of intervention involving ice cream and a High School Musical marathon, when I realized she might not actually be tired of talking to them. Rather, she might just be tired of talking to them . . . on screens.
Sheryl Ziegler, psychologist and author of the book “Mommy Burnout,” says it makes sense. “It’s not really until you’re an adult that the center point of your social relationships is just talking. Kids play and engage in activities together, then laugh and talk about what they did. These days, they don’t have those shared experiences, so it’s important to create those opportunities for them when possible.”
For many kids, after being home from school for almost a full year, the combination of both learning and socializing online is causing fatigue. Breshaun Joyner, an eighth-grade English teacher at Santa Fe Preparatory School in New Mexico and the mom of a 16-year-old son, agrees. “At first, online school was novel, and therefore, in some ways, more tolerable. Then it got old, and now, it’s reaching untenable,” she says. She has seen kids go from working at desks and tables to lying in bed and hiding in their cinched-up hoodies.
We all know that socializing in person would make kids a lot happier, which is what Joyner is seeing, in small doses, as her students and teenage son transition from a fully online schedule to a hybrid model. For children who don’t have that option, she believes that “giving kids truly social time on screens can be a close second.”
With that in mind, I decided that instead of popping my daughter’s weight in microwave popcorn and cueing up a very adorable Zac Efron circa 2006, I’d offer up some creative ways she could safely see her friends on screens — beyond their omnipresence in my house while on FaceTime.
Although these five ideas may take a little organization and management on a caregiver’s part, getting a mostly happy child back, even if just for an hour or two while they’re with their friends, is well worth the effort. Like Ziegler emphasizes: “We need to continue to instill hope in our kids by reminding them that it won’t always be like this, and giving them things to look forward to.”
Stream a movie together
Watching a show or movie together is a wonderful shared experience that will give kids plenty to process and talk about well after it’s over. Your kids may already be watching movies with friends in different homes by video chatting and starting the same movie at the same time, then hitting mute on their phones.
But several streaming services have created their own watch-party features, making the experience way more fun — and more like an actual movie night. Teleparty, formerly Netflix Party, syncs the playback for shows or movies on Hulu, Netflix and HBO, as well as Disney Plus (though it has GroupWatch, its own version of this feature), so everyone gets to watch at the same time. Then, they can start a private chat room to gab about what’s playing or anything else they’d like to talk about, all while getting a break from their phones.
Create a daily podcast
Kids are really missing all those small social moments, such as greeting each other in the hallway or hanging out in front of their lockers. You can help them re-create a bit of that with Cappuccino, an app that lets them create a group podcast that gets sent to all the contributors the following morning at 7 a.m. It’s like group chats, but without the 40,000 distracting notifications. Plus, they get to hear their friends’ voices.
During the day, kids can share audio clips on the app, which then get mixed together with background music and turned into a “podcast.” It’s such a clever way for kids to keep up with their friends and share parts of their day without the constant pinging of chat notifications.
Eat school lunch at a Zoom cafeteria
Even though lunch at school doesn’t last very long, there’s a lot of socialization that happens during that time (and at recess, for younger kids) that isn’t happening at all right now. So for kids who are doing all-virtual or hybrid schooling, you could create an online lunch date for them using Zoom.
If the kids are in the same grade, there’s a chance they have similar lunchtimes, so it would just be a matter of setting up a Zoom link for them to use and maybe putting together a school-lunch-style meal. Rectangle pizza and a carton of milk, anyone?
Host a virtual club
Although a club definitely has a more formal ring to it than calling a friend to video chat, a scheduled meeting for kids who have lost out on many of their previous extracurriculars might not be such a bad idea, especially for high school students who might need activities on their college applications.
You could do something more formal, such as a foreign language or science club, or go the dance party or crafts route. This is also a chance to tap into the services of dancers, artists and other performers who may be looking for paid opportunities, given the bleakness of their industries right now.
Whatever you decide, try to make it a regular occurrence, so your kids have something to look forward to every week.
Share a TikTok account
You could earn yourself some cool-parent cred by pitching the idea of a shared TikTok account, though there’s a chance your kids already have one if they’re on the app. They essentially create a group account with shared log-in information. Once videos are published, whoever has access to the account can duet with each other, or “self-duet,” as it’s called, all on their own account.
Of course, there are some logistics and rules that the parents of the account owners may want to discuss, because parents have a wide range of opinions about their kids on this app. However, in the spirit of meeting kids where they are — yes, they’re on TikTok — this could be an opportunity for them to stretch their creative muscles and get the time with friends that they’re craving.
Kristen Chase is a writer, author, mom of four and co-founder of Cool Mom Picks.