Is remote learning hurting my kid?

The school year kicked off and it’s nerve wracking.

Many classrooms are empty and our living rooms have replaced them. Our kids are sitting in front of a device all day, and they aren’t physically interacting with anyone.

They’re remote learning.

And we, parents, are wondering, Will our kids remotely learning anything?

And let’s face it, it’s scary. At least, it’s uncertain. And many of us are worried, and concerned. My wife and I are, too.

Worried about our kid being on a device all day

Our first grader just started school and he’s constantly on a device. There’s a school issued iPad sitting on his desk as I type this. And he’s staring at it right now. He has been for hours since the beginning of last week, all day every day, for like five hours a day.

And my wife came to me, worried, and said, “Should he be on that thing all the time? I’m concerned that it’s hurting him.”

I paused. And thought. And I realized I’m on a device all day every day. I’m on my phone right now, typing feverishly on it to clarify my thoughts around my kid being on a device. So I’m on a device talking about my kid being on a device. I know—meta.

But, I’m not watching YouTube or playing candy crush or whatever. I’m writing. My device is rarely used as an entertainment portal to get lost in. If I’m not writing on it, then I’m reading or doing some other kind of learning on it. I use it as a tool to produce good for myself and for others. And that’s exactly what my son is doing, too.

A device can be a learning tool

He’s engaging with kids his age, talking with them, learning social skills. He’s getting lessons on social studies, English, science, math. He’s drawing on his iPad, taking photos of his work to show others. He’s breaking out into small groups to talk about what they’re learning, listening to book readings, building relationships. This remote learning seems to be making an impact on him.

I get why some parents would be scared. (I have been one of them.) Over the years there has been a lot of talk about how kids can become zombies and irritable and get ADD from devices. And there was also this article that talks about how parents being distracted by their devices are also contributing to the problem. (I’m probably one of those, too.)

But after thinking about this, I realized that the issue isn’t about usage but use. And, as I see it, for five hours a day, my son is using his iPad as a tool. And so are all of the other kids in his class. Just because he’s on device for lengthy periods doesn’t necessarily cause him harm or make him a poorer student. On the contrary, it’s actually improving him and his mind and his social skills. He’s even learning ways to make connections digitally and how to deepen them, which will only serve him well as interactions become increasingly digitized. That’s something many of us Gen-Xers or older never learned in our youth. I think this generation may even be stretching their EQ (emotional quotient) in ways that we’ve never seen before.

Socialization and blue light and homeschooling

I do wonder about his ability to socialize in the physical presence of people. Will he know how to handshake properly if and when that ever happens again? Will it be firm enough? Will he know how to look a person in the eye, not the screen eye or camera eye? Will he know how to stand in the presence of strangers and present himself well? Those are all questions I’m asking. You probably are, too. And the truth is, we don’t know. All we can do is teach them what to do around us and wait and see.

Blue light, the light emanates from the screen, is also another concern. Researchers aren’t sure if they are as harmful as some may suspect. But it may be good to be careful nonetheless. We bought these blue light blocking glasses (affiliate) for our son. They aren’t cheap. But they were the best we could find. We wanted to err on the side of caution especially since, as I said, he’s looking at a screen every day for five hours a day.

A family we know decided to pull their kids out of school because they didn’t want them wearing masks or sitting in front of a screen, all day. So they’re homeschooling. And that’s a perfectly viable option. In someways I’d like to do the same. Last year we saw our son do rather well while he was under the my wife’s tutelage. But we decided to go full remote learning because our extroverted son needs more interactions than what he’s getting from just his parents.

And it’s working, I think. He seems to be doing well. He’s enjoying the classes, most days. It’s a little early to say he’s flourishing. But he could be. He seems to be. We’re hoping he will. I’m wishing the same for your child, too.

Parents, remember this in remote learning

But the biggest thing to remember, parents, is this: we’re all making due with a terrible situation. We’re all making lemonade out of the lemons. And whatever direction you go, it won’t be perfect. I mean, no one has the perfect solution for educating kids in normal life, let alone in a pandemic. So, take it a little easier on yourself, take a breath, keep moving forward, and know that you’re doing the best you can for your child. In times like these, that’s the best we can do.

And, listen, since the beginning of time, parents have been worrying about their kids. I’m fairly sure that all of the Neanderthal parents were worried about how their Neanderthal kids would handle this or that change, like the discovery of fire or the Ice Age, or whatever. Those parents might have even been concerned about how the sun reflected off of the rock tablet their prehistoric child was using as they were making a cave drawing on it and sat them under the shade of a tree to block the ferocious light from their little cave-person eyes.

You get it. Parents worry—no matter what Age you’re in. It’s a part of the job description for parenting.

But if your kid is learning and, more importantly, learning how to learn, you’re going in the right direction. Whether with an iPad or a paper notebook or chalkboard or a stone tablet, the whole point is that they are growing as humans. And when we are directing them on that trajectory, we’re doing the right thing.

Parenting is a tough business. Full stop.

But parenting in a pandemic is something else entirely. It’s like survival of the fittest. It’s our ice age. Some could liken it to warfare. But whatever you’re calling it, if we can help our kids find pockets of goodness and growth, you should be feel good about it.

Remote learning isn’t perfect, but I think it’s going to be far less harmful than we fear and far better than we hope. We, parents, will need to supplement that learning and stay with our kids in this process. But, I believe, it will work out.

I mean, look at far we’ve come from Neanderthal Man.

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Surprising love in a city of strangers

Silver doors quickly slide open, and my family and I piled into the subway car with everyone else. All of the seats were taken: It was morning rush hour.

But, our five year old whined, “I waaannt toooo siiiit.”

Mortified, we tried to hush him thoroughly. But before we did, a man in his fifties of a darker hue wearing a baseball cap got up without a word and moved aside. And my son plopped down in his place.

That man stood before me smelling of cigarettes and alcohol, and I wondered what his story was and what caused him to give up his seat to a demanding boy he didn’t even know.

I looked at this man, amazed, and said: “Thank you.” And he glanced at me and nodded with a sense of understanding and then went back to gazing at nothing.

Every time we enter a subway car, what happens is this.

People get up.

Once they see my wife wearing our three-month-old, walking with my five-year-old, they automatically surrender their seats to strangers—to us.

Women, men, young, old, light-skinned or dark, white collared or blue, it doesn’t matter. All rise to the occasion—to this unspoken rule—unspoken but followed.

Love thy neighbor, especially if they are small and helpless, by sacrificing your comfort so they can be comfortable. It’s living art. It’s small but great. It’s humanity shining.

Surprise takes me every time, and I marvel at the generosity of these people in this city. We are strangers, yet we are friends, maybe family. And in that moment we are connected, loving and loved. We are grateful for you.

We love you.

All of you.

Fatherhood: Reflections on the last days of summer with my son

Popcorn, beer, and fans in blue surrounded us. Summer sun was beating down; a cool wind comforted us; and the crowd roared when a homerun soared over the back wall.

His face glowed with hope and joy as we sat: My son and I perched in the Bronx. 

He knew that I didn’t like staying for a full game, but he asked me, “Dad, can we stay till the end?” 

Usually, I said no, giving a reason like we needed to get home to do something important. 

But a realization slapped me, hard. And it was this. The only summer I have with my son as a five-year-old is ending. 

“Make the most of it, fool,” I thought to myself. 

Making as many happy memories as I could with him became my aim, doing the things he wanted, even if they went against what I preferred. 

So we stayed. 

The innings were exciting. But witnessing the wonder and excitement in his eyes brought me the greatest joy. My son smiled, cheered, clapped, and laughed. And I couldn’t help but join him.

And I found myself not wanting to leave the game even after the last out. 

But we both left satisfied, hand-in-hand—father and son. 

How New Yorkers react to our five pound baby

New York can be a hard place. People are rushing around you, treating you as if you weren’t human, only something in their way. The bustle can be overwhelming. You can get lost in the shuffle and feel like a number. But living here with a family has been very different, especially with a newborn.

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The Saturday afternoon we lost our son

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and we were in Washington Square Park, the iconic park in downtown Manhattan. The large marshmallow clouds marched in rows over the skyline; there was a slight breeze that brought comfort from the warmth of the sun shining down on the sea of humanity. The fountain was spraying water in the air, while kids danced and frolicked in the water. The landmark arc was white and seemed to glow as it towered over everything and everyone. People were everywhere: around the fountain, on benches, milling around, walking through, watching entertainers, on the grass in bathing suits. Dancers were dancing, musicians were playing, and the audiences were paying. Every creed, color, nationality seemed present. It was a collage of park, people, art, music, city, and nature. It was truly humanity at its best on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. 

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Have you ever considered a prenup?

On an episode of the Tim Ferriss Show, one of his guests, Ramit Sethi, talked about prenuptial agreements, or prenups, which are contracts signed before people get married that dictate rights to property and what happens after there is a divorce. They were both in favor of them.

It was interesting.

I don’t mean that in a snarky condescending, self-righteous way. I mean it was truly enlightening and helpful to consider.

As much as I am a huge fan of Tim Ferriss (and really enjoyed Sethi), on this subject, I disagree.

There is business in marriage. There are financials, income, taxes, losses, gains, spreadsheets, etc. Money plays a large part in the relationship and often is one of the main topics couples fight about. All true.

But marriage is not a business.

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Did our five-day old baby really need three spinal taps?

My wife just gave birth to our second son at home (on purpose).

And five days later, our pediatrician pushed us into the ER because our baby had a low temperature.

We thought he was just jaundiced (something a lot of newborns get but can be easily treated with special lights). But we weren’t prepared for what happened next.

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