As I sat at the dinner table enjoying a family meal with my wife and two teenaged daughters, I knew they were both struggling with the isolation. So last week, I asked a reflective question to my family: “What has been the hardest part of the ‘stay at home?’”
Their answers were encouraging and provided me a hopeful end result to this whole experience. As I read social media feeds and emails from my college students at Shorter University, I see a similar sentiments. My daughters said they missed two things: their friends and going places.
This crisis has ramped up the use of technology. Students are no longer in a classroom. Instead they are in front of a tablet web conferencing with their class or watching videos to learn new material. Bored since the school day is not as long and there are no extracurricular activities, students are consuming more entertainment. They will FaceTime their friends and spend more time with video games, etc.
Yet, the overconsumption and removal of real human interaction has brought many students to the realization of what is the core trait of humans: We are relational creatures. Although they have FaceTime and Zoom, they are longing for more. While a multitude of streaming services are readily accessible, students are longing to go out and experience the world.
Students need guides to help them in this unnatural time. While they have the longing and feeling of the tension of something not being right, students often lack the wisdom to deal with and put those thoughts into action. As parents and leaders of students, this is a prime opportunity for us to disciple students through their thoughts and feelings. We can plan for the now and the future when these restrictions are lifted.
The temptation, though, is to enclose myself in my home office and work for a full day. Likewise, it would be easy to allow my children to stay in their rooms with the doors closed doing schoolwork, watching TV, texting friends, and scrolling through social media. However, in our comfort and safety of being under the same roof, we must still be intentional and relational to one another, not cloistered in our own rooms. Here are some suggestions for our families at this difficult time.
Open the bedroom doors and come together.
On Sunday mornings be together as a family for the live stream of your church service. You can talk in church now, and it is okay. Engage in a conversation when the pastor makes a good point or brings a question to mind. Encourage your students to do the same.
Stop technology for a few minutes and sit together for a meal. Make sure all devices are in the “do not disturb” position. Even put them in a separate room. This is your opportunity to rest from the outside world and be together as a family
After dinner, take a walk together around the neighborhood. This is a great opportunity to communicate, especially with sons. Since boys have trouble sitting and communicating, they communicate much easier when they are doing something active. In the process, you might see neighbors out as well. Even from six feet apart, we can still carry on conversations and be an encouragement to others.
Give students the chance to talk it out.
I know our current situation is just a brief window of inconvenience in the grand scheme of life, but students will experience frustration with this process soon, if not already. They may experience even some symptoms of depression as the reality of the moment weighs on them. Some students will miss out on much-anticipated experiences such as proms, graduations, summer camps, and mission trips.
In our adult “wisdom,” it would be easy to dismiss these and say “It’s only one summer.” However, students live in the moment. We need to give them time to process their emotions and thoughts.
We don’t have to ask them a ton of questions. Just a simple “tell me more” is often fine. The key is to talk less, limit advice, and listen more to your students.
Don’t let finances stop experiences.
Our economy will more than likely go through an adjustment and for some that will mean a reduction in resources. That does not mean we stop trying to experience the world.
For most of us, we equate vacations and down time with spending money. However, this is not necessary. There are many free and inexpensive things to do as a family at home. Check out projects on Pinterest for creative ideas to do as a family. And, no, it doesn’t have to be dad’s long-procrastinated outdoor project. Select ideas of interest to your students, too.
For laughs, make funny family videos. Take advantage of the free local experiences that still allow access such as walking trails. My girls love to play badminton in the backyard. (I’m a fan of disc golf.)
Be ready to practice hospitality.
We can help prepare our students for the future. Since they long to be back with friends, teach students how to display hospitality.
Have students help cook a meal. Let them plan a family evening of food and entertainment and give them complete ownership. Things may not turn out perfectly, but perfect isn’t the goal, developing skills and learning to show hospitality to others is the goal.
Be intentional about community.
While social distancing is inconvenient, it will be temporary. Hopefully soon, our families will be back to normal and students will be able to return to their friends.
Instead of letting them just host a sleepover of only their friends, invite the families over. Make this a time of renewed acquaintance, celebration, and enjoyment. This will reinforce to our students what we have been practicing during the stay at home as well as the fact that multi-generational interactions are important and beneficial.
I look forward to the day when my children (as well as my wife and I) can return to a resemblance of a normal life. In the meantime, I see this as an opportunity to help them grow and appreciate what is important: relationships and experiencing life.