Social Distancing: Detrimental or Not?
By: Sophia Sara
“In this new Covid-controlled world we live in, we have been challenged in ways we never thought we would have to be.”
In this new Covid-controlled world we live in, we have been challenged in ways we never thought we would have to be. School is held online rather than in person, we cannot physically spend time with each other in the ways we used to, and even the holidays may be spent alone or with few family members. In this new normal, there is a group that may be affected in ways we would not have guessed: how are our young children handling this pandemic?
If you had said the words “social distancing” together as a phrase this time last year, chances are you would get a lot of confused looks. The term “social distancing” came into our everyday vocabulary as a result of the recommendations from our healthcare professionals. To socially distance is to refrain from attending large gatherings, refrain from traveling unnecessarily, and to keep a physical distance of at least six feet from others when in public. The aim is to minimize the spread of Covid-19 in order to lessen the load on our healthcare system. Schools are perfect for breeding any type of virus: hundreds or even thousands of kids all together in the same rooms and hugging, sitting, and eating together is a part of the average school day. Social distancing is something that seems to be helping slow the spread of the virus, and even stop it in some places; for this reason, most schools and classes are held online. Some may believe that social distancing will negatively affect young children’s social skills and their social lives will lack the basic necessities for healthy socialization (Southwest Human Development 1-2). However, my research has overwhelmingly suggested that this is not true. In fact, young children get their main socialization from their parents and/or siblings, not from peers.
We have seen the negative effects of being isolated from friends and family: depression, loneliness, anxiety – the list goes on. But these adverse effects have mostly been seen in teens, young adults, and even our elderly. How is social distancing affecting the youngest of us, the babies, toddlers, and elementary school-age children? Are they lonely? According to author and mother Jennifer Grose, some babies born during the pandemic may not even know that other babies exist yet (Grose 3). The average age babies can recognize and imitate the emotions of other babies at 5 months of age (Pawlowski 2). Will they even know how to socialize in the future if they are being deprived of socialization with others besides their family? The answers to these questions are not what I expected, and maybe not what you expected either.
Many students here at Marymount are psychology or early education majors and this essay may be especially interesting to these students; parents of young children who are worried about the negative social effects of social distancing may also find this information comforting. Deprivation of socialization among peers is not detrimental to young children’s development. Author of several books on parenting and single mother, Leah Campbell, the younger the child is, the more malleable and adaptable their brains are (Campbell 26). It has been shown that children are extremely capable of adapting to new environments (Campbell 26). Restrictions caused by the pandemic may even seem “normal” to young children since they have little or no experience in the world prior to Covid-19.
For young children, however, their main socialization comes from members of the family and attachment to the caregiver(s) and not peers (Campbell 8-9). From birth, attachment to parents is the most important social occurrence. Babies are extremely dependent on others to take care of them and their relationship is the most important one, much more important than socializing with people outside of the inner circle that is the baby, parents, and perhaps siblings. Social distancing has almost no effect on babies and their social life! They do not have a need to be around other children or adults in order to thrive socially; in fact, this may even be better for their health because people have germs and babies’ immune systems are just starting off.
Author Lydia Denworth interviewed several children, pediatric professionals, and parents and concluded that socializing with peers is not so important to young children as they are to adolescents and young adults (Denworth 9). Teens’ social circle is the center of their social life at their age. They are learning how to talk to other people, form healthy relationships, resolve conflicts, and form their identity. For young children, their relationships with their peers are mostly surface level. Friends are for playing and the most they have in common is shared interests like playing with toys, liking trucks, or having the same favorite color.
In spite of having to wear masks in public, young children may even learn to socialize better because verbal communication and eye contact is so important in a world where masks need to be worn and facial expressions cannot be fully seen (Grose 12). Children are somewhat forced to speak up and look at who they are talking to in order to be heard and understood. This can be a great way to start off their developing social skills in a positive way.
Finally, healthy attachment to caregivers sets a strong foundation for children to use to make strong relationships with others in the future (Campbell 6-9). Trust is first learned when attachment is made between parents and babies. Since the pandemic has forced many to stay inside with their families, this crucial time is made much easier for parents and babies to really form a bond that will set them up for success in forming future relationships.
This pandemic has certainly made us feel alone and uncertain about a lot of things, but our young children’s social development is not one of them. The conclusion from the articles I have included here in addition to a plethora of other research confirms that young children’s social lives will be just fine as we social distance. Psychology majors may not be surprised by what the research concludes, but parents can put their worried minds at ease; young children are more strong than we think and thanks to their brilliant minds, they are already exceeding our expectations in so many ways.