‘Get off your phone/laptop/console,’ I roared through 2019. Now I say the opposite

Anything that avoids real-life, in-person contact with the world is now good for kids

Many children, who are not into sport, are missing  their afterschool activities, at at time when they really need them. Photograph: iStock

Many children, who are not into sport, are missing their afterschool activities, at at time when they really need them. Photograph: iStock

 

“What level of coronavirus are we at?” the second youngest asked having wandered down the stairs with an unquenchable thirst that has a tendency to appear, alongside the must-tell-you news that he feels an overwhelming compulsion to share, when he’s trying to resist bedtime.

“Still Level 5, though hopefully not for too much longer,” I replied, presuming the daily question about starting karate lessons was coming. He has been looking to join a club since he saw the Karate Kid on Netflix earlier this year.

“Where is that girl from?” he continued, suddenly pointing at the television. I took my glasses off my head to see who he was referring to. I’d placed them there deliberately as it seemed I was the only person in the house who didn’t want to watch the Katie Taylor fight which was about to start. This way I could ensure everything remained in soft focus.

He was pointing at Miriam Gutiérrez. “She’s from Spain, ” I replied. “Well then how can she travel if it’s still Level 5? Won’t she catch Covid?” he asked concerned.

“That’s not how it works,” his sister replied, gently. “You won’t definitely catch Covid if you travel, but you might, so it’s best not to,” she explained in a way he might understand. “They’re allowed to travel because they’re sportswomen, and they’ll be extra careful too,” she added, by way of reassurance.

I’m not sure if he really does grasp the differences and reasons for the various restrictions. But he’s seen them at home. While some of his friends can still see their grandparents on a regular basis, he hasn’t seen his for months. The SuperValu Christmas ad has captured exactly how we feel in this house – please let us be able to see them this Christmas. The kids worry that it won’t be possible.

Lockdown two has been hard on everyone. As I watch the weekly numbers and briefings I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated at the constant reminders to reduce our contacts. The only way I could possibly do that would be by selling some of my children on eBay, and that sort of thing is generally frowned upon.

I feel the frustration for my teens too who have played a blinder throughout this whole thing. Meet-ups with friends have been severely and impossibly curtailed, yet peer support is so vital at this vulnerable stage. For the littles too, it’s a challenge trying to explain why they can’t play as before with their friends.

Thank goodness for sport, eh?

Well, that is if you’re a child who happens to be sporty and fortunate enough to be a member of a club. Non-contact training has continued for my football and GAA-loving children much to their and my delight. For the others, however, their activities have ceased altogether or gone online.

Whenever activities are mentioned in the context of being beneficial for our children’s mental health, the focus is always on sport. It’s incredibly important of course, but so are the other activities that children enjoy. The arts are no less important to our children’s wellbeing.

For some children, school is not their happy place. And when that’s the case, activities can play a vital role in building confidence and finding a tribe

I chatted to other parents about the activities their children were missing – scouts, dancing, drama, choir, swimming lessons, martial arts, music lessons, to name but a few. A list as long as your arm of activities that had been chosen for all manner of reasons.

Sometimes there’s a romantic, fairytale-like narrative around school – the best days of your life. There are few parents more grateful than I that schools have remained open and for the tremendous dedication of our teachers. But one size doesn’t fit all, and not all school experiences are equal. For some children, school is not their happy place. And when that’s the case, activities can, among other things, play a vital role in building confidence and finding a tribe.

I spent much of 2019 roaring the same set of instructions on repeat – “Get off your phone/tablet/laptop/console” – as I tried to rein in my children’s screen time in the best interests of their mental health and development. These days, to suit the demands of unprecedented times, I’m actively encouraging the opposite. “You’ve drama online in 10 minutes. Facetime your nana to wish her a happy birthday. Go hang out with your pals on PlayStation.” Anything that avoids real-life, in-person contact with the outside world. And anything that helps try to cling on to a degree of it. Better-than-nothing, however, is still a bar set low.

A return to Level 3 still won’t see a return for many of the activities suspended by restrictions, meaning many children and teens will continue to miss out on their outlets at a time they’ve never been so important.

Unless of course, they’re into sport.

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