Younger children may prefer to play games online rather than chat. Photograph: SanyaSM/Getty Images Loneliness goes far beyond that f
Loneliness goes far beyond that familiar whine of “I’m borrrrred”. When kids miss their friends, that loneliness might express itself as anger, anxiety and sleep problems.
This is where technology can be your child’s best friend. “Friendships help keep children as strong, resilient, happy and relaxed as possible. Having the online companionship of friends provides the support they need in yet another lockdown, and will be important too when they return to school after it ends,” says psychotherapist Alicia Eaton, author of First Aid for Your Child’s Mind.
“Strong friendships will help them go back to school feeling able to cope with any challenges.”
Here’s how to help your child connect with their mates, whatever their age.
Age six and under
Some children, particularly as they get older, are happy to share their thoughts and emotions on video calls via WhatsApp, FaceTime or even Zoom, but with the under-sixes online communication should be less verbal and more visual, says Eaton. “If your five-year-old has been given a birthday gift, and you say, ‘Oh, let’s FaceTime and say thank you,’ they tend to freeze as they’re not great at communicating in that way.”
So instead of calling friends just for a chat, try giving your child and their pals activities to share over a video call, such as playing Top Trumps (the physical cards may work better than the app version). Scavenger hunts also work well, so give each child an illustrated list of simple things to find and tick off – a fork, something yellow, a book with a picture of an animal on the cover. Your child is likely to bond better with smaller groups of, say, two to four, as they’re less likely to talk over each other and end up with nobody knowing what’s going on.
Age seven to 12
This is the age when kids’ friendships become all-consuming, yet they can still be very fickle. “Remember when you went back to school after the summer holidays, and all of a sudden, your best friend wasn’t your best friend any more because they had buddied up with someone else over the holidays,” says Eaton. The right tech can help your child keep up the friendships they really care about.
Eaton suggests organising smaller Zoom meet-ups rather than inviting your child’s entire class, as there’s less chance of your child getting camera shy and they’ll be more likely to join in with the conversation. Also, take advantage of online games and platforms, such as Minecraft and Roblox, which allow friends to gather in a virtual world, playing and chatting at the same time.
With all that, you may be worrying about screen time. “Focus on quality over quantity when it comes to screen time,” says Eaton. “This should avoid unnecessary arguments, give you a break and allow your children to make the most of the tech they have at home.”
The growing independence of teens gives them a wider choice of ways to maintain communication independently, with messaging and video calls topping the bill. On video chats, playing with the look of the screen becomes a key part of the conversation. Zoom is the best for dramatic backdrops, while FaceTime allows users to add emojis to each other’s faces.
Just because messaging has become so normal, it doesn’t mean it is right for every occasion. “You don’t want your kids to get out of the habit of actually talking,” says Eaton. “It is possible to spend weeks and weeks communicating with people without actually opening your mouth and talking to them.” Here’s where a good old-fashioned phone call comes in: a chance for your teen to talk to their friends and enjoy the intimacy of really listening to each other, too.
Helping your child stay connected with their friends during lockdown is vital for their wellbeing.
That’s why every day, we at Vodafone are working hard to maintain our network.
So even when we’re apart, nothing can stop us being together.
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