Recently, I had the joy of seeing my younger cousins–they are six, nine, and eleven–for the first time in two years. Even after all of my adult relatives were vaccinated, my aunt and uncle were weary of letting their kids spend extended time with people outside of their immediate bubble. I found myself sounding like a grandma as I commented on how much they’d grown and posed questions about toys and activities that they were no longer interested in. Another key change that I noted was the pastel-colored N-95 masks on strings around their necks. Always on top of the accessories, the three girls wore sparkly earrings and plaid scarfs and little faux fur coats for their special day in the city, and the masks were just like another accessory. I was so impressed by the way they immediately hooked the masks over their ears before entering any indoor space or crowded area, no reminders necessary. It struck me that my six-year-old cousin probably learned how to put on a mask at around the same time that she learned how to tie her shoes and fill a glass with water. I asked them about what it’s like to wear masks all day in school and they said it could get uncomfortable to wear one for so many hours but they have special microphones to use when speaking in class and those are really fun. I asked if they thought everyone at school was good at wearing masks and they said that a few students got a note from their parents saying they couldn’t mask for one reason or another, but everyone else did. I asked if they were jealous of these students and they said no, unphased by what seemed to me to be so obviously unfair. I was so in awe with the way they’ve grown accustomed to masking that I did a little research on how kids, especially ones who maybe can’t remember pre-COVID times, could be developmentally affected by masking. According to “Masks Are Changing How Kids Interact,” an article in the Atlantic, kids are struggling to learn how to recognize each other (Dreyfuss). I’ve certainly found it hard to match a face I’ve seen with a mask to the same face without, or vice versa, and children don’t have the foundation of years of practice with facial recognition. On top of this, children have trouble hearing each other and knowing whether or not they are being heard with the masks on. They have fewer opportunities to study full facial expressions and understand how these correspond with certain emotions. The article explained that for kids, “recognition difficulties can slow down the getting-to-know-you process and, in the long run, hinder the development of trust.” The article also talked about how masks have inspired lessons on explicitly asking your friends how they feel, if you can’t tell by looking at only half of the face. Masks certainly hinder communication but they can also encourage alternative forms of communication that may even work better for some kids! Overall, I feel like children are the biggest troopers of the whole pandemic and we could all learn a lot from them about adaptability and flexibility in difficult circumstances.
Dreyfuss, Emily. “Masks Are Changing How Kids Interact.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 12 Oct. 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2021/10/how-schools-can-help-kids-make-friends-through-masks/620356/.