The Pandemic’s Effect on Children’s Social Skills

COVID-19 has drastically changed so many parts of our lives over the past 8 months. One of the most impacted branches of our society has been the education system. Children went from 8-hour school days filled with chaos and active engagement to being thrown in front of a screen in complete isolation. Most schools have been using the app “Zoom” that allows for large group video conferences. Although this allows schools to attempt to keep teaching, for a young child, this sole virtual interaction with peers can be detrimental to the development of not only their education but their social skills.

At school, children learn much more than information regarding math, science, and history. On a daily routine, they are subjected to different social situations that they must navigate. While they make their way through the situations, they are building upon their cognitive abilities. Kids are learning important things like how to share, communicate their opinions, deal with confrontation, clean up after themselves, and how to differentiate between right and wrong every day.

During a pandemic, they cannot learn these abilities through a screen sitting alone. Not to mention, these children have no outlet to release steam when they aren’t given playtime or recess like they are in school. The study “Longitudinal Impacts of Home Computer Use in Early Years on Children’s Social and Behavioral Development” This particular study was done in January of 2019 and focused on video games. Interestingly enough, excessive computer use affected genders differently. Boys were more hyper and anti-social after gaming and girls were more social and able to self-regulate. In both genders though, the more video games that were played, the worse the social skills became. During COVID-19, the playing of video games has exponentially increased because of the lack of other things to do. Therefore, children’s social skills are taking even worse of a hit than imagined.

The Breakdown of How Certain Ages Will Be Affected:

Since breaking down the specifics of development and the ongoing pandemic’s effects on them is such a new topic, there have not been official studies, but many have begun to speculate. Sally Beville Hunter, Ph.D, a clinical associate professor of child and family studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has broken down the effects on certain ages. In her findings, zero to two-year-olds are completely fine. At that point, they do not need others to fille their social needs. Two to five-year-olds are most dangerous without social interaction. They aren’t doomed but definitely need to learn basic things like differences between right and wrong. This is increasingly difficult for them to do when not near other children. Elementary school-aged children are of the least concern. They will figure out how to create social interaction one way or another whether and already have a somewhat solid base of how to act socially.

Below is an audio clip coming from a 2’s teacher who had to teach over zoom during the pandemic. The children she taught fall in the most dangerous category when it comes to learning social skills. She talks about how she thinks the pandemic will affect the social skills and what she has noticed thus far.

Transcript to the Interview with Delia Bishop Transcript

The Increasing Digital Divide:

In extreme cases, children may have been completely isolated from the outside during this pandemic. Lower privileged school districts do not have students who have the ability to access reliable Wi-Fi and an at-home device at all times regardless of a pandemic. “A Pew Research study found that during the spring lockdown 36 percent of low-income parents reported that their children were unable to complete their schoolwork at home because they did not have access to a computer, compared with just 14 percent of middle-income parents and 4 percent of upper-income parents.” (Wired. A ‘Covid Slide’ Could Widen the Digital Divide for Students. https://www.wired.com/story/schools-digital-divide-remote-learning/  ) Some students may have to go to a local library or stay after school to be able to complete online assignments. COVID-19 halted this process for those who needed it. The library and school option they once had closed down for the time being. To combat a lack of learning, many schools distributed learning packets when they shut down in early March/April. These packets somewhat aided in the continuation of learning but did not provide the same in person, or even face to face over zoom, experience. They also did not really have a way to monitor whether or not these children were doing the packets or not. But, in these crazy times, we are living in, there is no better solution. These children in these lower privileged neighborhoods are going to fall more behind than they already are in this pandemic. Zoom may not be great, but it is a lot more beneficial than doing the same paper packet for 3 months.

A Pew research study done in April focused on the effect of the pandemic on lower-income families in regard to technology. They released statistics and below is a chart I put together using their statistics.

Kindergarten through 12th-grade students having to teach themselves lessons through a packet is enough of a challenge on its own, but when you aren’t even interacting with people outside of your living cohort, social skills are undoubtedly going to decline. Even with zoom, children are not receiving the adamant amount of social interaction. Without zoom though, children will lose or not even learn the most basic necessary social skills. These children, who already are behind because of the normal digital divide, will continue to fall farther and farther behind both socially and academically.

With the beginning trials of reopening schools taking place this fall, it will be interesting to see the effect of digital learning. There is no doubt there will be a difference in effectiveness when it comes to privileged versus underprivileged areas, but the real question is how much of a hit will these children be taking when they were not able to access computers, socially and academically. Will the US government make more of an effort to provide more funds to these less fortunate school districts so they can play catch up or will the digital divide grow even more? The problem with studying such a new topic is that we won’t know the answers to these questions for a while, but we will live with the repercussions.

Works Cited 

 Ceres, P. (n.d.). A ‘Covid Slide’ Could Widen the Digital Divide for Students. Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.wired.com/story/schools-digital-divide-remote-learning/ 

Grose, J. (2020, September 30). Will the Pandemic Socially Stunt My Kid? Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/30/parenting/coronavirus-masks-kids-socialization.html 

Talaee, E. (2019). Longitudinal Impacts of Home Computer Use in Early Years on Children’s Social and Behavioral Development. Longitudinal Impacts of Home Computer Use in Early Years on Children’s Social and Behavioral Development, 11(3), 233-245. doi:https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1da7/6df2866aab3fbb53e048dc5683e2b1eaeddc.pdf 

Vogels, E. (2020, September 10). 59% of U.S. parents with lower incomes say their child may face digital obstacles in schoolwork. Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/09/10/59-of-u-s-parents-with-lower-incomes-say-their-child-may-face-digital-obstacles-in-schoolwork/