Use Covid-19 as a tool to instill some healthy life lessons.
Can anything positive come from a deadly global pandemic? Many people hope so. They hope that the world will not go back to just the way it was after all this is over. They sense that, for a species with the self-destructive tendencies human beings so often display, there are important lessons to be learned.
As fathers, our first responsibility is to our children. Are there lessons in all this for them?
There has to be. Covid-19 reinforces messages we were already sharing, and opens up new avenues for exploration. Here are a few ideas.
1. Health is everything
We tell our children to eat healthily, exercise and stay away from cigarettes. But in normal circumstances these lessons can seem a bit abstract to a six or 12-year-old.
Not anymore. Older people might be worst affected by Covid-19, but people with underlying health conditions come a close second. Many of these issues are self sustained. It’s becoming clear that coronavirus is a bigger threat to smokers, the obese and those with diabetes. Let the pandemic reinforce your efforts to instill the virtues of a healthy lifestyle, while it is front and centre of even the youngest minds.
2. We need real connection
Social media is great. Zoom and Skype have helped many of us through the isolation of lockdown. But none of it can replace the very human need for physical connection.
Kids know that too. They miss their friends and relatives. They see mates on screen but a surprising number want to go back to school so they can see them in person. They want to play.
Scientists have identified a condition called touch starvation, which is a lack of gentle skin to skin contact. Touch reduces stress and anxiety and alleviates loneliness. The lack of it exacerbates those issues. We hug our children close, because we know how important real contact is.
Humans are social animals, not social media animals. Now is the perfect time to spell out unequivocally that, for all our whiz-bang technology, spending real time with friends and family is the only certain route to contentment.
We hug our children close, because we know how important real contact is
3. Collaboration not competition
Children are taught to compete from an early age. You want your kid to be top of the class, which means being better than everyone else. You want them to win.
That’s fair enough, some of the time. But humans are naturally social, and naturally collaborative. We climbed to the top of the food chain not by having the sharpest teeth or most incredible eyesight, but by working together.
To get through the pandemic, we need collaboration more than ever. We rely on each other to keep socially distanced. We rely on the cooperation of scientists, often working thousands of miles apart, to come up with treatments or vaccines.
Whatever you think of Brexit, or of the isolationism of leaders like President Trump, the world needs to work together to contain and beat coronavirus, just as it will need to if we are to avoid environmental collapse. Our children are likely to suffer more than us from that potential calamity. Now is the time to talk to them about the power of cooperation.
4. Don’t cure, prevent
Covid-19 caught much of the world on the back foot. Scientists had told us that a pandemic was possible, but we refused to plan ahead and prepare. That attitude probably cost thousands of lives.
Short-term thinking is also a problem in other areas, like business, the economy, the environment and personal health. It means we chase short term riches rather than long term prosperity, and reach for the biscuit box rather than going for a walk. We widen roads rather than investing in public transport.
This isn’t an easy message for children to grasp, but imagining the future and planning for it is – again – something that separates human beings from other animals. The lack of PPE at the start of the pandemic is an easy example to use. We knew we needed it, but we didn’t think ahead. Short-term thinking cost lives.
5. Lessons in truth: don’t trust all social media
We spend quite a lot of time telling our children not to believe what they pick up from social media and other online sources, unless the information has been verified by someone they can trust.
It’s a hugely important lesson. Fake news is everywhere, and never more so than now. Social media is rife with miracle cures and misinformation about where and how the virus emerged. It’s the perfect time to teach lessons on just how efficient a channel for lies and propaganda the internet has become.
Of course, there are lots of trustworthy sites on the internet too. Take the opportunity to teach children how to separate opinion from fact, and bogus facts from the truth.