With Dr. Vanessa LoBue, Professor of Psychology and Child Development Expert
Dealing with the impact of a global pandemic has caused strain for everyone in a variety of ways. Most of us are tackling upended routines, some are facing financial uncertainty, and many people are coping with the painful loss of loved ones. As parents, it can be tough to maintain a sense of calm during this ‘new normal’, so it’s unsurprising that many kids may be struggling with feeling unsettled. With everything that’s going on, our kids may need extra reassurance that things will eventually get better.
We spoke with Dr. Vanessa LoBue, an expert in child development, to learn how children’s natural inclination towards repetition can actually help them to feel safe. Good news if you’re on the verge of hiding the remote so your kid can’t play their favourite movie for the umpteenth time. Although it may be hard to stomach the sameness, perhaps we’ll have more patience for repetition if we understand why it brings our kids such comfort. In times like these, finding ways to calm our kids is definitely welcome.
Every parent knows these words all too well. From insisting on the very same bedtime story night after night, to re-telling the same joke over and over, it’s clear that when kids find something they like, they want it again, and again, and again…
Such a strong attachment to the familiar actually begins to develop even before a baby is born – in the third trimester of pregnancy. Fetuses can taste, smell and hear by this point, and so they are developing personal preferences based on flavours from the food their mum eats. Even certain sounds are preferred over others, as fetuses are able to recognise things like their mother’s voice, native languages, or stories that are read aloud frequently outside the womb. When a baby is born, it only takes a few hours for them to develop an affinity with their mum’s face. It’s possible this is a measure of safety, since babies create attachments with the people most likely to take care of them.
As babies turn to toddlers and then older kids, this enjoyment of the familiar continues, with kids reading the same books, listening to the same songs and watching the same movies on repeat. When you consider the progression from fetus to child, it makes sense that this sort of repetition brings a sense of security and comfort.
Repetition has even more benefits than making children feel safer. Studies have shown that kids learn better from reading a book over and over again than just reading it once or twice. Repeated exposure to words or actions leads to improved understanding and imitation. So if your kiddos beg you to read the very same fairy tale every night, they’re actually making more concrete connections in their brain every time they see the same words. Same goes for if your little one wants to belt out the same “Frozen 2” song until they’re hoarse. Every time they sing the same lyrics, they’re making memory links and learning more.
When kids behave this way, they’re proving the old saying that ‘practice makes perfect’. Studies have shown that repetition can be critically important for learning in general. While grown-ups can pick up new info after seeing something once, when kids want to watch or read or play with something again and again, it’s their way of absorbing knowledge. That extra exposure might be just what kids need to learn new things. It might not be easy, but as parents, the benefit of all that repetition could be the security of knowing exactly what comes next (at least in one small part of our lives).
Speaking with Dr. Vanessa LoBue inspired us to have more patience with our kids when they insist on the very same things more times than we ever thought humanly possible. Although it might be annoying, it could also be precisely what our kids need to learn more efficiently, be reassured, and feel safer. In uncertain times like these, maybe a little repetition is the anchor families need to feel steady amidst the waves.
Dr. Vanessa LoBue is Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Child Study Center at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. She regularly teaches courses on child development to both undergraduates and graduate students. Her research focuses on emotional development in infants and young children. She has a monthly blog on Psychology Today called “The Baby Scientist,” where she writes about research on child development for parents. She currently lives in New York, with her husband Nick, and her sons, Edwin and Charlie.
Even with zoos and aquariums closed, and access to outside nature fairly limited, your kids can still learn about a variety of exciting animals. These awesome videos and games are the pick of the litter! Your little explorers will enjoy investigating different habitats around the world and getting to know creatures big and small. From real-life nature footage to animated hip-hop rap tunes, we’ve got something for every animal lover.
There are so many spectacular species in the world, and so much to learn. We hope your little animal lover stays as busy as a bee with these activities and has a whale of a time!
If you’re struggling to get your kids interested in maths, we’ve got the solution. Kids will be inspired by the magic of maths, from finding out the most powerful number in the universe, to learning how to find the height of something tall like a tree or a basketball net, without using a ladder! If learning how to intercept a secret message by decrypting an ancient cipher box sounds cool, your kids are in for a treat with these mathemagical activities!
We hope your kids have fun improving their maths skills in new and exciting ways. After all, there are three kinds of people in the world: those who can count, and those who can’t.
With lockdown lifted slightly, we’re able to get out and about more regularly, which is great! But many parents will still be tackling teaching kids at home whilst juggling work. If you can’t or don’t have time to get outside and garden, don’t worry – there are plenty of projects you can do at home with your little growers. We spoke to landscape designer Natasha Hopkinson and landscape architect Lesley Perez to get tips on how to bring gardening indoors. Here are 5 awesome projects you can do with your kids, and the best part is – they definitely count as lessons in ecology and life sciences!
Remember Chia Pets from your childhood? Kids will love constructing these little houses and watching the sprouts grow. Plus, the sprouts can be used to top salads, if your kids are feeling adventurous!
What You’ll Need:
What to Do:
Use one sponge as the base. Cut all the other sponges in half to act as the walls and roof. Then connect all the pieces with toothpicks by inserting one end of the toothpick into the edge of the sponge and connecting it to the other. Mix about a tablespoon of chia seeds with water and spread the paste all over the sponge house. Then add some water to a plate, put the house on it… and wait! Make sure you mist the sponge house with water every day, and in a few days the chia seeds will sprout! This is a fantastic way to teach your little ones about the magic of germination.
Ready for a spring tea party? Kids will love the scent and taste of fresh mint, and you’ll have fun sipping the results of your (surprisingly easy) labour!
What You’ll Need:
What to Do:
This project is super easy and fun to see! Buy some mint from the grocery store, let your kids grab off a bit, place it in a jar with water, and within a week those little mint cuttings will be putting out new roots that grow and grow! Kids will love watching mint’s superpower to regrow without pollination, and it’s a great excuse to make mint tea (or a Mojito), too!
This is a cool way to show kids the transformation of something you’d ordinarily throw away, into something beautiful. It might even be an effective incentive to get your kids to eat more carrots!
What You’ll Need:
What to Do:
This is one of the easiest plants for kids to grow. Carrot tops will eventually even bloom white lacy flowers, which is especially pretty! Stick a toothpick into either side of the carrot stump and balance it on top of a small glass. Pour water into the glass so it’s barely touching the bottom of the carrot stump. Then set it in a light (but not sunny) place, make sure to top up the water so the stump is always immersed, and watch it sprout!
Turn a pit into a pretty house plant and get your little ones involved in the growing cycle with this simple project. Your kids will love seeing the pit slowly grow into a plant with glossy green leaves!
What You’ll Need:
What to Do:
Insert 3 to 4 toothpicks into a dry avocado pit. Suspend the pit in a jar, and fill it up with water so that about a third of the pit is immersed. Place the jar in a warm spot (but not directly in sunlight), and in about 2-6 weeks, roots should sprout. When the plant sprout gets about 6 inches tall, cut it back to 3 inches to encourage more root growth. Then, once the stem grows out again, plant the pit in a 10-inch pot with soil, and wait for your avocado tree to grow! Remember, though – this isn’t about actually producing an avocado fruit (that takes years). This project is focused on the fun of watching the green tree grow!
This activity is perfect for adding some character and personality to your gardening. Make a family of grassy eggheads if you’d like, and give them all different faces and hairstyles!
What You’ll Need:
What to Do:
Gently crack the end of an egg, making sure to crack as little of one side as possible. Then empty the egg so you’re left with just the shell. Dry the shell, then help your kiddos to glue the googly eyes to the egg and let them draw a smile with the marker. Sprinkle some soil into the egg until it’s about three quarters full, then add a layer of grass seeds on top. Cover the seeds with another little bit of soil, and water it. Place the egghead in a light place, out of direct sunlight. Make sure to water lightly every day until grass “hair” starts to shoot up (in about a week). Your little ones can even enjoy giving their egghead a haircut when the grass is long enough, or separate the grass and tie it into bunches.
We hope you and your kiddos enjoy learning about growing cycles in nature and helping plants thrive. Have fun flexing your green thumbs!
Natasha Hopkinson is a landscape designer in San Francisco, California who came to London to help film the souvenir video/DVD of the Chelsea Flower Show for the RHS for 16 years. She has two sons who still love to garden and remember having a forest of avocado pits growing in the dark under the bathroom sink. For more info, please visit: http://www.natashahopkinson.com
Lesley Perez is a Landscape Architect with Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects in New York, designing public and private gardens that help bring people closer to plants and nature. She studied at the English Gardening School and the University of Greenwich in London.
With Ariane De Bonvoisin
Although the pandemic has impacted us globally, it’s changed our individual lives in vastly different ways. No two people have had the same exact experience, and because of that, everyone’s emotional wellbeing is at different levels. But in spite of our differences and what we’ve faced in the past several weeks, most people would agree that kindness can go a long way in helping us all carry on. We’ve seen this exhibited in many wonderful ways – from our weekly NHS applause in the UK, to people making masks, to parents sharing videos of homeschooling challenges, or simply telling a joke to get a family member to laugh. Communities have become more aware of others, in big and small ways.
However, a weighty challenge impeding our inclination towards kindness has been an underlying sense of uncertainty. It’s human nature to ask the question “am I safe?” and this crisis has caused our foundations to be rocked, from health to income to routines and more. It can be difficult to be kind if we don’t feel safe. Many parents may be asking themselves what they can do to raise kind kids, especially in these distressing times.
So, how can we nurture kindness in our children?
5 Ways to Raise a Kind Kid
The idea of not being good enough is common for kids. Self kindness is the antidote to that, but it needs to come from the parents first. Kids need parents who are filling up their own bucket with kindness. When kids are exposed to parents who have guilt and negative self talk or self punishment, they absorb that. By positive role-modeling, parents set the scene and give children the tools they need to love themselves.
Kids will learn to be kind through observation, so make sure to create experiences where kids can see you be kind, and where kids can choose to be kind too. From the way you treat the cashier when you get groceries, to the way you react to your reflection in the mirror, kids are absorbing the information they see.
With many families still feeling the tension from lockdown, it’s understandable that household stress may be running high. If your kids are sporting sour faces and grumpy attitudes, or if they’re fighting more with their siblings, it can be challenging to be patient. You may immediately try to cheer them up and turn those scowls into smiles. Or you may lose your cool entirely and join them in having a down-in-the-dumps day.
The truth is, the kindest approach is to allow kids (and ourselves) to experience challenging emotions. So often, kids aren’t allowed to simply be human. Parents frequently want their kids to be cheerful and carefree, even when they themselves are not. When parents stifle kids’ true feelings, they may end up growing up to believe that something’s wrong with them unless they’re always happy.
Sadness and anger are healthy emotional states too, so let your kids know that all emotions are welcome. Don’t expect a sunny disposition at all times. The kindest act is to accept your child exactly as they are, because this is one of the first steps to encourage self-kindness.
Kids aren’t always the nicest, right? So what do you do when nasty comments arise? Try to help your kids see that underneath unkindness is always a cry for help. Remember: hurt kids, hurt others. But it’s also important to arm kids with an active response to unkindness. Try teaching your kids to “Shield Up” and imagine an invisible shield that only lets in love and kindness. The other emotions bounce off the shield to the other person for them to learn how they feel. This gives kids a tool kit to use when they get into difficult situations. If someone is unkind, kids can choose to let the comments bounce off their shields.
It’s important for kids to recognise that feelings are like clouds in the sky, and they’ll move through them. Just because you’re sad now doesn’t mean you will be forever, and these feelings don’t define who kids are. It can be useful to do a “Wrap up the Day” exercise with your kids at bedtime. Ask your kids if they have any emotions they’d like to let go of, and where they are located in their body. If they have any yucky feelings, it can be helpful to give them a name or a shape. Then take deep breaths together and pretend to “pull” out the negative emotions from their bodies. Once they are feeling calm, they’ll be ready for a good night’s sleep.
Most parents speak of how unsafe it is in the world, and want to shelter their kids. This can be especially tempting given the global pandemic. But even amidst this crisis, it’s important to give kids a model of the world that’s kind, loving and safe. Yes, there are risks we need to be aware of, but there are also actionable ways to stay safe. And yes, some people may choose to do bad things, but we can still have compassion for them. Teach your kids to always ‘look for the helpers,’ as Fred Rogers always said. The more we teach kids that this is a kind world, the more they’ll go out into the world expecting kindness.
A Future Full of Kindness
Especially during this pandemic, it can be easy to view kindness in conventional terms, like outward acts towards other people. It’s important to remind ourselves that the true heart of being kind to others actually begins with being kind to yourself. If you want to be outwardly kind, you have to start from the inside. When kids learn to love themselves, they feel mentally healthy, and if they know how to be kind to themselves, they will naturally be kind to others.
Parents should make a point of doing kind acts for their kids, too. We’ve all been handling a lot lately, and it’s nice to create magical moments for your children. Maybe let them build a fort in the lounge, or eat pancakes for dinner. Also encourage your kids to think of what good might come out of this crisis? Be honest with them about what’s going on, but also invite them to think of the positives that might be on the horizon. Empower your kids to come up with ways they can be kind, and present a bright future ahead. Even with uphill challenges, we have the opportunity to live in a world that’s full of hope, where everyone is raised to be kind.
Ariane is an expert on life skills and navigating change and is an author, speaker and coach. Her book series for kids, Giggles and Joy, can be purchased on Amazon. For more info, please visit her website: https://www.arianedebonvoisin.com
As kids grow, they’ll find more opportunities to learn about the world around them, and as they do, they’ll face various stumbling blocks along the way. Gaining problem solving skills early in life will help them face challenges, build patience, and make good decisions. Kids will also develop increased flexibility and creativity, which gives them the freedom to explore ideas and find inventive solutions. Here are several hand-picked games and shows that cultivate problem solving skills kids can put to practical use in their daily lives.
At this point in lockdown, many of us are feeling the strain of emotional exhaustion. We may be struggling with feelings of powerlessness and uncertainty, and the disruption to our normal routines and being cooped up inside may at times feel overwhelming. As parents, this situation may make us feel like commanding killjoys as we constantly tell our kids to wash their hands, forbid them from touching anything outside, and insist they don’t enjoy the playground or see their friends. Such drastic life changes may also worsen or trigger anxieties kids were already struggling with, which may add to parents’ concerns about their children’s wellbeing.
A survey of over 2,000 people that Azoomee conducted in April 2020 revealed that parents are increasingly worried about the impact the pandemic will have on their family’s mental health. More than two-fifths (42%) of parents have seen their children become anxious, withdrawn and aggressive. In single-parent families or those with one child, that figure rises to 56%.
So, what can we do to help kids cope with anxiety in healthy ways?
The first step is for parents to set the emotional tone. How parents respond emotionally to a challenge, whether it’s a family crisis or a global one, greatly influences how kids react. It can be useful for parents to think of themselves like pilots of a plane, with your kids as the passengers. When turbulence arrives, the passengers need to know someone is in charge. Amidst this uncertainty, kids need someone they can trust to guide them through it. Remember that anxiety can be as contagious as a virus, so it’s a smart idea to have tools at hand to calm everyone in the household. By using the following techniques, parents can empower kids to be the ‘boss of their brains’ and find the courage that is in them.
5 Ways to Cope With Anxiety
At its core, anxiety is actually a physical response. Our bodies become primed for ‘fight or flight’, and our brains jump into a future-thinking ‘what if’ reaction. Breathing is a way to neutralise the chemicals in our body, and it brings us back to the present. By changing the physiology of the brain to a state that’s more relaxed, breathing gives your brain the break it needs. There are two exercises you can do with your kids to get them to understand and implement strong, steady breathing.
‘Dragon Breathing’ is about breathing in for three counts and then breathing out hard and fast, as if you’re a dragon. Ask your kids to imagine they’re dragons and blowing out fire with gusto! Do this five or six times.
‘Hot Cocoa Breathing’ is another imagination exercise, where you ask your kids to pretend they’re holding a cup of hot cocoa. Ask them to breathe in the warm chocolatey smell for three counts, then hold it in for one count, then blow the hot chocolate cool for three counts. Repeat this a few times and explain to kids that by doing so, they’re teaching their brain what to do when they feel anxious.
It’s important to practice these breathing techniques when kids are already calm. If kids practice their breathing over and over again, they’ll be able to draw on these skills as a tool when they most need it.
Grounding is all about connecting with our five senses. It brings the brain that was holding onto the future, back to the present. Ask your kids to look around the room and notice and label things you can taste, smell, touch, hear, or see. For example, ask them to name five things in the room that are yellow, or five things in the room they can smell, or five things they can taste. You can go even further and ask your kids to describe the way something smells or feels. The idea is to get them grounded in the present moment and the immediate area around them.
Mindfulness is about focusing on one thing in the present moment without needing to analyse it. For example, a mindful walk would include honing in on simple things, like what you feel underneath your feet, or paying particular attention to how the breeze feels on your skin. By doing this, you can rewire the brain in a way to make it more resilient in the face of anxiety. It quite literally changes the structure and function of the brain. It’s important to note that, similar to breathing exercises, mindfulness needs to be consistent. There are quite a few apps available that kids can use on their own, like Smiling Mind and the Calm app. Even just two or three minutes a day can be extremely helpful, and kids can get to the point where they can do this independently.
Ensuring we get enough exercise can be especially challenging now that we’re stuck at home more than ever before. But keeping our bodies active is a key ingredient to positive mental health. Exercise balances the level of neurochemicals in the brain that help calm anxiety. Although being outside in nature is best, kids can also dance or hula hoop or move their bodies in any way. Anything you can do to get your heart beating will do the trick, so try getting creative with playful ways to incorporate movement.
One of the things that’s important to remember about anxiety is that it’s based in negativity. This is where gratitude is a saving grace, since it makes positive thoughts and experiences more accessible. If we regularly notice and acknowledge what we have to be grateful for, then over time we’ll be primed to recognise the positives in life. Gratitude strengthens the part of the brain that can calm anxiety. You can’t just command your kids to automatically “think” happy thoughts, but we can allow our brain to build its capacity to feel happier. Daily gratitude during a bedtime routine is a great way to calm kids before they sleep, or you could do a fun project with them by making a Rememberlutions Jar, which is like a gratitude journal, but in a jar.
We are all adjusting to a new normal and dealing with a pandemic, so it’s understandable if all of our tensions are running high. At the moment, it may feel particularly distressing for kids because the coronavirus is actually a real threat. And it’s key to remember that anxiety is a normal response to an unfamiliar or challenging situation. Both kids and parents may get more anxious during this time as we deal with health, financial and security concerns. The goal in practicing coping techniques is to become better able to manage anxiety even when there is no threat; when we want to face something and be brave.
If you notice your children struggling, approach the topic and be sensitive. Acknowledge the big stuff going on in the world and validate your kids’ worries. Pay particular attention to the emotional tone you’re setting. We’re wired to feel stressed when our kids are stressed. So we need to gain the tools to calm our own anxiety first and lead by example. Always make sure to acknowledge what’s going on for you. Don’t just soldier on and put on a brave face. Model your own capacity to feel things, struggle, and face them. In this way we can send the message that anxiety is manageable. It may feel at times like it’s not, and it can be overly intrusive. While there’s no magic wand, there are effective strategies to cope.
This unprecedented time actually does have a silver lining. It’s offering us a chance to encourage our kids to become more resilient. We’re also being given an opportunity to be more flexible and forgiving of ourselves and others. Social isolation can take a toll, but we’re all human, we’re in this together, and we’re all doing the best we can.
Karen Young has worked as a psychologist in private practice and in educational and organisational settings. Her website Hey Sigmund offers information on emotional topics and attracts millions of readers each year worldwide. Her book Hey Warrior helps kids understand why anxiety feels the way it does, and what they can do to feel better.
It can be tough for parents to know how much about the pandemic to share with their kids. While it may be tempting to shield little ones from distressing news about the coronavirus, it’s essential that we give them the information they need to be safe. Experts note that having a clear understanding of what’s going on can help kids feel less anxious. Here are 3 lovely e-books that will soothe nervous kids and help them understand current events without feeling overwhelmed.
“When we care, we think of others and put others first,” said author and illustrator Nicole Rim, whose 24-page e-book is clear and easy for even little kids to understand. This is a great option to educate your kids in a relatable way, with cute drawings that personify the virus so kids can understand how it attacks, and what to do to stop it. Kids will learn how the virus is spread, and are empowered with their own ‘superpower’ to fight back: caring. The book teaches kids that caring is about taking good care of ourselves and others by washing our hands, coughing or sneezing the right way, and sending love to friends and family in new ways, like letters or phone calls. This sweet book teaches kids that they can make a difference in the world when they choose to care.
Get the PDF here.
Epidemiologist Malia Jones wrote this book to give parents a starting point for a conversation about the virus. As a parent of two, Malia believes that kids can tell when we have negative emotions, and it’s better to have an open conversation than to try to hide our feelings. Pairing clean, bold design with kid-friendly language, this book describes how the virus spreads, using descriptions kids will appreciate, like “snot” and “an atomic bomb of germs”. The book also acknowledges that kids may feel panicked, and assures them that it’s ok to feel whatever they’re feeling. It’s also full of fun facts that kids will enjoy, like “soap kills viruses by making them explode”. It also includes a helpful outro for parents with suggested questions they can ask kids to help them feel empowered and safe.
Get the PDF here.
Gruffalo illustrator Alex Scheffler co-created this question-and-answer book about the coronavirus to support families during the pandemic. With input from Professor Graham Medley of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, as well as headteachers and a child psychologist, this book addresses questions kids may have, like “why are some places we normally go to closed”, “why can’t I see my grandparents”, and “how do you catch coronavirus?”. This book helps kids feel in the know, and makes the scary parts of the pandemic feel easier to deal with.
Get the PDF here.
In addition to teaching kids about the science behind the crisis, parents are taking on the challenging task of teaching kids a variety of subjects at home. To help you keep going with gusto, we’ve made a home learning e-book jam-packed with awesome activities that’ll get your kids excited to learn.
Get the PDF here.
This is a tough time for all of us, but arming ourselves and our kids with accurate information is a good first step in coping with what may feel overwhelming. While it’s good to inform your kids, it’s also smart to reassure them that this will not last forever. Together we can keep doing our best to fight coronavirus, and eventually one day we’ll be able to get back to our normal lives, full of hugs with friends and grandparents.
From exploring questions like why stars twinkle to why saturn has rings, we’ve got some awe-inspiring shows and games to get your kids stoked about science. Dive into awesome activities like building a bridge of straws, launching a plastic bottle rocket, or creating a contraption that feeds you toast! Through character role modelling and hands-on experiments, your kids will discover the magic of science!
We hope your mini scientists had a blast exploring the natural world and learning the science behind how stuff works! With so much in the world to wonder about, we hope your little ones are inspired to ask questions and use science to discover the answers. Have fun experimenting!
Adjusting to our new normal in lockdown has meant a huge shift in our usual online routines. With kids’ education existing almost entirely online, and in-person playdates replaced by virtual ones, families are now spending the majority of their time on devices. Busy parents are finding it increasingly difficult to monitor their kids’ activity online, especially when juggling work of their own. With kids on tech so much during lockdown, online safety is more important now than ever before. We spoke to Kate Jones of ChildNet International to learn the best ways to keep kids safe online.
Top 5 Tips to Stay Safe Online
Sometimes it’s tough to know where to start, but many young people do actually want to connect and share that element of their lives with parents. Try to open up the discussion naturally. Conversation-starters can stem from chatting about what agreement you can make as a family around internet usage. During this unprecedented time, kids are going to be online a lot more, so it’s important to be flexible and understanding. Remember too that whatever agreement you make, it needs to be followed by both grown-ups and kids. So if you agree to put away phones at meal times, for example, that counts for everyone in the household.
Some parents may be worried their kids aren’t sharing the whole story of their online lives. This can be of particular concern for parents of older kids, who may have social media profiles. The important thing is for parents to come from a starting point of trust and listening. Kids will stop sharing if they are worried the parent will take away a device. Oftentimes young people are more scared of losing a device than dealing with what they are tackling in their online lives.
Kids need to know that parents will listen if they come to them about something going wrong, rather than reacting with anger. It’s crucial to start with the positives and remain open to hearing how young people use the internet differently than their parents. Regular conversations are necessary so that kids feel trusted, acknowledged, and willing to share.
Given that more kids are online now than ever before, it’s important that they understand the risks without becoming too scared or hampered by fear. Instead of scare-mongering and setting forbidden rules, parents should open up conversations with kids by asking them what they think the consequences might be. If kids feel included in the decision-making process, they’ll feel more confident and able to tackle potentially risky situations.
Parents are life experts, even if they may not be online experts. It’s important to ask, listen, and reflect. Encourage your kids to use their instincts to detect whether a particular interaction online might be inappropriate, and instil good judgement rather than fear.
The pandemic has certainly caused a big increase in the hours kids spend interacting with their friends online. Research that Azoomee recently conducted with over 2,000 parents (available here and here) revealed that while 82% of parents know what their kids are watching online or have controls in place, 58% say that their kids are either spending time on platforms like Tik Tok or YouTube, or chatting on social media channels or on video with friends. With tech use more prevalent, many kids are using apps they never have before to stay connected with their peers. Video chat apps like Zoom and House Party have become far more popular with young people, and with that comes new risks around privacy. ChildNet International offers guidelines to create a more private experience and be safer when using these social apps. Parents should also find out more about the safety features available on popular social networks like Instagram and Facebook. It’s a good idea to talk through best practices with your kids so they head into online social situations with awareness and security.
It’s important during this time for parents to check in with their kids and be aware of how their children are feeling when they come off a device. Connect with kids and get their input. Parents should also make use of the settings on the devices they have, and look at what their internet provider gives them in terms of safety tools. This could be a time of firsts for many kids – creating their first email address or their first video call. Understandably, some parents may feel concerned about their kids being online all day, but adding extra worry to a fraught situation won’t help. The hours kids are spending on devices may be far less important than making sure we stay productive, positive, healthy and safe. This won’t last forever, so parents can take the pressure off themselves to be perfect moderators of kids’ screen time.
To a certain extent, this shared lockdown experience has helped us realise we can accomplish things in a variety of ways and that technology can be there to help us stay connected with each other. Necessity is the mother of adaptability, and the pandemic has seen our world adjust to a new normal, together. It’s good to focus on the positive outcomes, like more regular communication between parents and kids about their online lives.
If young people feel they are able to share their challenges and problems, then parents are in a position to be able to take appropriate responses. Kids who are confident and comfortable to seek help from adults will get their issues handled more quickly. This will help to combat online bullying, grooming and sexual harassment. Potentially, being online more may result in a better support system for kids. Even if parents just offer reassurance and empathy, young people will stand to gain much more out of their online experiences.
Azoomee’s BAFTA-nominated original series “Search it Up” follows siblings Jack and Maya and their grandmother as they navigate life online and explore challenges that crop up in their everyday experiences. These 2-minute episodes are an engaging, fun way to teach kids about internet safety. Plus, they make awesome conversation-starters to get your kids talking and thinking about online safety.
Azoomee offers a totally safe digital space for kids to explore, but we know that kids will be online in other arenas too. We hope we can all work together to create a safer internet for all, especially during this unsettling time.
Kate Jones is the Deputy CEO of Childnet International, a non-profit organisation that works to make the internet a great and safe place for children.
Estelle Lloyd is the COO of Azoomee, a safe streaming platform for kids offering action-packed games and inspiring videos that foster wonder, imagination and curiosity.