In early 2020, people’s social habits changed drastically around the globe. As the Coronavirus epidemic became a global pandemic, public health guidance and government policies intensified and became more isolating. Initial suggestions to wash our hands frequently and to socially distance transitioned into, “Stay home. And interact in-person as little as possible.” Thanks to our technologically advanced society and our generally social nature, we did not all become hermits overnight. We found new ways to manage our schooling, our work, and our social connections — for the most part, online.

Parenting Dilemmas

From the perspectives of many parents, the shift to online living was a relief – they could keep their jobs, and their kids could continue learning. But it was also concerning. The transition to remote learning and working meant that parents had to significantly adjust the limits they had previously placed on their children’s daily screen time. Many made those adjustments, increasing screen time to allow for remote learning and for diversion while parents worked remotely. And then parents had to decide whether to allow for even more online activity. Because how else were their kids going to stay connected with their friends?

Benefits of Digital Social Connections

Having social connections is important to a person’s health and well-being. This is true for people of all ages. Having friends during childhood provides opportunities to develop social skills and is protective of psychological and emotional health later in life. Even during a global pandemic with widespread quarantines, some families may be able to find ways for their kids to connect socially in-person. Picnic table playdates and chatting from different cars are common social options these days. But for some families it’s harder to pull together these sorts of meet-ups. For many of these families, the benefits of social connection outweigh the costs of increasing kids’ time online. But parents who decide that they agree with this cost-benefit analysis still have important decisions to make: Who is going to teach their children how to have a digital playdate? And who, if anyone, is going to supervise?

Strategies to Consider

If you’ve decided to manage some of your child’s social connections digitally, it can help to have a plan. Ask which friends your kids are missing the most, and find the best way to get in touch with them. Decide what types of digital media you’re comfortable with, and for how long. Are you willing to let your child use your phone to text a friend? Is the friend’s parent willing to do the same? Would you prefer that kids talk on the phone or have a video-call? Are you okay with your child playing multiplayer online games? Is your child old enough to be left alone during digital hangouts? Or should a parent or older sibling be nearby to help with technology or to provide social structure?

There are lots of options in the universe – digital and otherwise – to help children connect with each other. When in-person options are limited, you can successfully help your child manage their social connections digitally. Decide which digital tools to use, how much support to offer your child, and what timeframe works for you. If you’re looking for inspiration, you can find lots of digital playdate activity ideas online. Are you planning an evening video call with friends or family? A shared storybook reading could be a mellow late-day option. Connecting with friends earlier in the day? A digital dance party is a fun option. Have a conversation or two with your family and decide what will work best for you. Then get out there – virtually – and connect with the people who are important to you and your children.