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Teenager: I’m not really sure about what I am going to be doing this summer…
Parent: My husband and I both work full time, so having our kids at camp would certainly be a big help…
8-year-old: Well, I was going to go to a day camp that I love, and like, it would be my last year there, so I’d miss that. And I’m really sad that, like, I have to be stuck in my house. But, like, I’m still with my family.
Gupta: When I think “summer” I think of kids’ laughter, splashing in the pool, backyard cookouts, kids at camp.
But that may not be exactly how summer looks this year.
Across the country, camps are getting canceled and families are scrapping their vacation plans. Kids are logging off virtual school only to find out summer jobs have vanished.
But over and over again, experts have told me not to panic. A little boredom is healthy. Plus, there are plenty of easy, creative alternatives to choose from this summer.
I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent. And this is “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction.”
Altmann: Initially, I was sort of telling everyone, you know, this is this is not going to be forever.
Gupta: That’s Dr. Tanya Altmann, a pediatrician in California. She’s been helping families manage the ups and downs of this new pandemic reality.
Altmann: I still am hopeful that this is gonna be sort of a one-year change and then things will get a little bit more back to normal. But I think kids are never going to go to a restaurant the same, or to a buffet the same or play with their friends the same.
Gupta: Sounds like the conversations happening in your home are very similar to ours. You know, one of the things that came up with my 14-year-old was around summer camps and people talk a lot about summer camps as this, you know, this thing that kids will often do instead of going to school. But for her, the last couple of years, it was a lot more than that. I mean, I could tell when she came came back from these camps, it was a tremendous growth experience. So it is a huge loss for her. This is a hard question, but how do you help kids navigate that disappointment?
Altmann: So it has been really hard for so many. I think the best thing to do is sort of acknowledge, you know, that you understand their disappointment and what they’re going through and that it is this huge, huge bummer. And let them talk about their feelings. I think our kids are going to be so much more resilient after this, even though they’re disappointed. But if as parents, we could kind of reframe the conversation and those can be the memories that they kind of look back on when this is all over.
Gupta: I have three girls, and Dr. Altmann has three boys. 14, 12 and 5. She recommends having a family meeting to discuss ideas for summer activities.
And you can ask what they would do if they could do anything, or at least almost anything…
Altmann: If you have a pool or you have a relative or a neighbor with a pool that you feel is safe, that maybe your family could borrow one day when they’re not using it. If your kids want to camp, you can Amazon a tent and camp in your backyard even or your front yard. You could also, you know, think about art projects and creative things to do since I have a five-year-old. He’s been painting jewelry boxes and making T-shirts.
Gupta: But Altmann also says parents shouldn’t beat themselves up about relaxing rules for screen time. This is a big one. Parents are gonna need breaks too.
And when screen time is over, she says letting kids be bored is actually an important part of their development.
Altmann: You know, I see a lot of kids with mental health issues in my practice. And part of my protocols for them, especially my patients with ADHD, have always been to sit on the grass for 30 minutes a day and do nothing. That’s actually so healthy and important for their brain and their body to just do nothing and relax.
Gupta: While many summer camps and activities are shutting down, others are adapting and offering alternatives.
The YMCA in Youngstown, Ohio is holding in-person activities for less than half the usual number of campers. Staff will be taking kids’ temperatures every day at drop off, and anyone with a temperature over 100 degrees will be sent home.
Parents who don’t feel comfortable with that can sign up for virtual camp, which includes a box of supplies and the week’s schedule of online activities.
Nikki Murray is the Youngstown YMCA’s camp director.
Nikki Murray: We came up with very simple scavenger hunts that anyone could do. It’s just thinking about all the crazy things that you have in your home, like like tools in the garage or maybe stuff in the kitchen. Just being silly with it, like something green that could protect you from the rain. I had a kid pull a bucket from under his sink and he put it on top of his head like, look, this is the perfect rain hat.
Gupta: Murray is making sure the kids get outdoors, as well.
Murray: It’s OK for kids to be on their devices if they’re still using it for things that are beneficial to them. So like taking them outside and having them do workout videos or something. I highly recommend the Cosmic Kids Yoga. That’s awesome. They base a lot of it off movies, like they have a “Trolls” one. They have “Star Wars,” “Minecraft.” And any time you can combine something that they like with something that they don’t like, and you can, like, mash it together a little bit, they want to do it.
Gupta: But Karen Arroyo is concerned virtual camp isn’t the answer for her family. Arroyo and her three children live in the Bronx — one of the areas of New York City hardest hit by the pandemic.
They’ve been isolated for months and spending a lot of time in front of screens both for school and during down time.
Arroyo: They’ve become such home bodies and introverts. I’m concerned about how this is gonna affect them socially when they do go back to school.
Gupta: Arroyo’s kids — ages 14, 11 and 10 — were supposed to go to a two-week sleepaway camp organized by the Fresh Air Fund. The fund provides free summer activities to New York City kids whose households meet certain income requirements. But all of its normal programming has been canceled.
Arroyo: My two youngest children were the most disappointed because they’ve been quarantined for so long. So they were looking forward to having those two weeks out in nature. They’ve closed our parks that are across the street from us. So the children don’t even have that anymore.
Gupta: Which isn’t just disappointing to kids but to parents as well. Many of us also look forward to some kind of break during the summer.
Arroyo is a patient care technician, and has spent much of the last two months working with Covid patients in a Bronx hospital.
She was hoping to have some time to herself while her kids were away.
Arroyo: I kind of needed that time to kind of just vent. You know? I just needed that time for myself, that downtime where it wouldn’t affect them.
Gupta: Instead, Arroyo says she’s looking into setting up some therapy sessions for herself. And she’s ordering puzzles for her kids and having them log into their schools’ arts and crafts nights.
The Fresh Air Fund is planning a virtual camp option, and is hoping to offer family camping on its properties to families who have been in quarantine together. It’s also organizing some safe play areas around New York City where kids can do some sidewalk chalk, hula hoop and, well, just get some fresh air.
Executive director Fatima Shama says these play spaces will also provide opportunities for local teenagers whose summer jobs fell through.
Shama: The opportunity to deputize young people in neighborhoods as coaches or counselors or captains is going to be key. And so we’re going to turn to our Fresh Air Fund community, but we’re gonna turn to the New York City community.
Gupta: Shama is optimistic that they won’t be short on activities. She’s already working to organize activities that are still fun, but from a distance.
Shama: Frisbees, great social distancing sport. Soccer. If you’re just kicking the ball back and forth. Badminton. Great. You know, just, you know, sort of hitting balls back and forth in a ping pong style manner. Hopscotch. Amazing. Jump rope, right? You know, you can easily say six feet apart.
Gupta: And, look, we’re all tired. Working from home is a lot harder than I think a lot of us expected. And going out into the world can sometimes feel scary.
The pandemic is taking its toll in ways we may not even be aware of. So don’t beat yourself up if your kids aren’t occupied every second.
Here’s pediatrician Dr. Tanya Altmann again. She used to have a “no screen time during the week” rule for her kids. But she’s relaxed that lately.
Altmann: As long as they’re eating healthy, getting exercise, sleeping, getting downtime, I think it’s OK to be a little bit more lenient on your screen-time rules.
Gupta: You know, I have to say it made me realize these past couple of months just how overscheduled my kids have been typically. And I really just didn’t get the time with them. They weren’t getting the time with themselves. And, you know, I know I’m not sure that they were that happy with all these various activities. Is this a good thing? Do you think in some ways?
Altmann: You know that’s a very good point because kids before did not have enough downtime in their life and they were too overscheduled. And they kept thinking “I’m bored, I’m bored, I’m bored.” And so I think that’s something that a lot of our kids are going to learn to appreciate this summer, even though, you know, if regular summer was scheduled, they probably would have gone through the whole summer so fast and not even had a moment to just sit down and think.
Gupta: Your kids might be bummed out, there’s no better way to say it. But the summer itself doesn’t have to be a bummer. Personally, I’m going to try and soak up all the extra time I have with my daughters, and try to make it a time they will remember. They’re going to be gone before I know it.
And while we’re not going to do a summer vacation, or do camps, or a lots of the things they were looking forward to, we are going to spend some real time together doing things we had never imagined.
If you have questions, you can record them as a voice memo and email them to [email protected] — we might even include them on the next podcast.
We’ll be back Monday. Thanks for listening.