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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Should I Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Headlines about vaccines are splattered all over the media these days. We, all of us, are on our toes with expectation, waiting for one to work. But we may be reaching. And even if one works, that doesn’t mean it’s safe.

When I was younger, before this pandemic, I never thought about vaccines. When my doctor told me they needed to shoot something into my body, I quietly submitted to the demigods of science and medicine and let them medicate me, even though I hate needles (and still do).

Be Cautious With Medicine

But now that I have kids, I’ve developed a newfound caution towards medicine. I don’t believe everything I hear from institutions, especially when they haven’t been thoroughly tested. Before I make a decision when it comes to medication or healthcare, I thoroughly research it.

I became more cautious after researching home births. I discovered that a woman’s body is, more often than not, perfectly capable of, and designed for, giving birth without medical intervention. Yet, healthcare systems would have you believe that babies are only best born in a hospital, without telling you that they are revenue-centers for healthcare systems.

I’m not saying medicine is nefarious or that the people who work in the field mean to hurt or take advantage of their patients. I don’t think they do. I think they mean the best.

Nor am I saying that vaccines are bad. They’re not. Clearly, they save lives and have been incredible innovations for humanity. I’m supremely grateful that I didn’t have to worry about contracting polio when I was a kid on those sweltering summer days when I dove and splashed in the neighborhood pool. But just because vaccines are good doesn’t mean there isn’t risk here. There is, especially for new ones.

History of Vaccine Failures

You see, there have been problems in the past. Not just little hiccups. I’m talking about people getting the disease from a vaccine that it was supposed to keep them from getting, like polio. True story: in 1955, The Cutter Incident happened.

Cutter Laboratories developed a vaccine for polio and 250 people, instead of getting inoculated from the disease, got infected. So hundreds were crippled for life when they thought they were getting a preventative measure. Some even died.

Yes, that “incident” led to some reform. Additional protocols like better regulatory measures and a way to get compensated for being harmed by a vaccine were created. But still. People died—kids died.

But even with those improvements from the Cutter Incident, problems with other vaccines still occurred, even as recent as 2013. Here are some of them.

  1. Simian Virus 40 (SV40) – 1955–1963, 10-30% vaccinated with this polio vaccination got this virus, which looks high.
  2. Swine Flu Vaccine and Guillain-Barré Syndrome – 1976, where a “small” fraction one out of one hundred thousand got this serious condition .
  3. The latest one occurred in 2013, where the manufacturer was concerned that there might have been “glass particles” in the vials for their HPV vaccine. I’m not exactly sure what all of that means, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want glass particles shot into my bloodstream.

I’m not saying that there’s a conspiracy with all of the vaccines that had issues listed above. That’s not the point. I’m sure they were meant to help people, solve the problem of some sickness whatever it was. But not all shots are silver bullets.

What Does This Mean for the Covid-19 Vaccine?

These days, many seem to think that once someone pops out a vaccine for Covid-19, we will be dandy, all good—saved. And the multitudes will rush to get injected with it.

But I wouldn’t.

And now, we have a vaccine-race.

This week I read that Russia has developed a vaccine and that President Putin is even ready to inject his daughter with it. But does anyone really believe that?

And all of this is going so fast, maybe too fast. It’s been predicted that the vaccine will take at least a year to develop. But if history proves anything, it shows us that we have no idea how long it takes to make a vaccine. This website says historically it has taken 10-15 years. And HIV/AIDS still doesn’t have a vaccine even though researchers have been working on one since the early 1980’s. In 1984 it was declared that a vaccine would be available in two years. That declaration didn’t quite pan out.

But let’s say scientists beat the odds for this new crisis, and the Russians or some other country or company makes a working vaccine. My question is, Can it be trusted? Humans err. Especially when they rush things. I mean, when I rush a blog post like this and publish it without being thorough, it will have typos and errors. Even when I am super careful, there are often still issues. And they might hurt your wordsmithing sensibilities, but not your body, your well-being. But the Cutter Incident proves that errors with vaccines can cause significant damage.

This Worries Me

So that doesn’t just make me cautious. I’m concerned. What concerns me is our willing acceptance of a new vaccine. This worries me for you, your family, your kids, your friends, and for mine and me. This whole vaccine business is not risk-free, and it certainly isn’t guaranteed. Yes, it’s a worthwhile venture. But it’s venturing into unknown territory. And just because it’s a worthy cause doesn’t mean I’m willing to sacrifice my loved ones for it by jumping into line to get pricked right after they open the gates to everyone.

Now there are risks on either side. If you don’t get vaccinated, there are risks for getting the disease. But if you do, there will be a risk of getting the disease, too. Neither is certain. And there isn’t enough data to know for sure which way is best. I’ll admit I’m not a statistician. So if you’re playing the odds, don’t go by my words. I’m merely pointing out that there’s risk.

Closing Suggestions

I suggest that we need to temper our expectations for this vaccine and not allow our emotions to be swayed back and forth by the headlines. And if, by some miracle, a vaccine gets developed and passes clinical trials, be cautious. Just because it passes trials doesn’t make it completely safe.

But I do know this. I can’t control the vaccine nor the pandemic, but I can control how careful I am. I can wear a mask, socially distance, quarantine as much as possible. I can hope, and pray.

You can too.

Stay well, friends.

Lots of love,
John

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The greatest reward for pandemic risk

Assessing risk is hard anytime, but, in a pandemic, it’s even harder. But it’s paramount.

People should think “The coronavirus kills and is unpredictable, so I should wear a mask, especially indoors, and socially distance so I don’t transmit or get infected and become a transmitter.” But many don’t.

Especially in the US.

People aren’t socially distancing. People aren’t wearing masks.

And I think it has a lot to do with how people assess risk. Yes, it’s not the only reason the virus is rampant in our country. Sure, people are selfish. And true, people think the pandemic is a hoax. But there’s also this critical mental exercise that so many of us fail to practice that often harms us. We don’t think realistically about the downside of our actions.

And, to be honest, that’s the wonderful thing about Americans: we are optimists. We attempt the impossible because we refuse to see the impossibilities. That’s what makes us scrappy, entrepreneurial, rugged, dogged, where many of us have an I-can’t-let-some-stupid-virus-stop-me-from-living-my-best-life mindset. That’s an attribute—in a pre-pandemic world.

My mother. I love her. She’s an octogenarian. She’s old. And last week she went to a store with my sister and picked up legos for my first born son. And I scolded her for it. Because, to me, going to the store with my sister to pick up legos for my son isn’t worth the risk of putting herself in danger of getting a virus that would likely kill her. But she scoffed at me.

The virus turns optimism against us. It seizes that which is usually a strength in a non-pandemic world and turns it into, not only a weakness, but a weapon. See, my mother’s ventures into a toy store can lead to her getting herself, or me, or my son, or others, sick.

Often we don’t even know what the stakes are. We’re completely unaware. That’s especially true now. I think it’s because the virus can’t be seen and anyone who’s sick is behind hospital walls and you can’t really see what is going on with them. All we have are some stories people tell us in the media or social media. And we lack the imagination and awareness (maybe even the humility) to apply those horrific accounts to ourselves.

Till it’s too late.

The pandemic is a long view problem. Short term desires and actions only threaten and kill more people. There are no quick fixes. It needs to be handled with creating new habits, patterns, thinking that affect our lives. But too many refuse to think that way, and, instead, they do what they want when they want because that’s what they’ve always done.

But the pandemic isn’t about losing money or failure or losing a job or getting broken up with—no. It’s about death. It’s about forfeiting your life, or, worse, your actions costing the lives of your loved ones. When we are cavalier and careless, trying to live on as if the pandemic didn’t exist, we aren’t endangering just ourselves; we are risking the lives of everyone we love, too.

See, the world has changed; and in order to survive, even thrive in it, we must also change. We must adapt. What once was safe is now dangerous, no matter how optimistic we feel. And with each interaction with the physical world, we must measure it against this new reality.

And if you do, there is reward.

It’s life.


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You can survive this time

Sometimes authority is wrong. In America, it’s woefully wrong about the pandemic.

Everything is not ok. It’s not safe.

I’m not trying to be a fear-monger. I’m just telling you the truth.

I don’t want you to get sick. I don’t want you to spread this disease to your loved ones.

Look, our leaders are failing us. When leadership fails, we must lead ourselves.

When governments fail to use reason, data, wisdom, we must self-regulate.

We must stay informed and help, encourage, challenge, and bless each other.

I’m not saying this time is easy. No, it’s terrible. It kick-you-in-the-face challenging. It’s “unprecedented.”

We must use our minds, stay calm, and not rush into a world that no longer exists. It’s not safe.

But I have hope. I believe this will pass. It will be safe again. But it’s just not now.

In the meantime, practice caution, call friends and family, eat delicious food, read books, binge a show, learn a new skill, occupy your time with healthy, socially distanced activities.

And when you get through this, you’ll be stronger than ever.

Stay well, friends.

Love,

John


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Is normal worth the risk?

Quarantining, not hugging, being isolated, fighting the virus is exhausting. All of it. We want to get back to living, normal. But friends, we mustn’t rush.

Plunging into seeing people, going to the office, traveling, all of that, isn’t safe no matter what the politicians say, governments do, how those around you behave.

I’m seeing it around me: family, friends, neighbors, in Middle America, wanting life to resume in pre-pandemic style, wishing the virus away, hoping for the best.

At the end of this month my church will resume in-person services. They said they will have protocols to keep people safe.

I doubt it.

And I hope nothing happens; but the questions are How much risk do you want to take? and Is it worth it?

Seeing people is important, so is going to church in person, but is it worth risking your life when there is no treatment or vaccine?

There are things worth risking your life for, like saving another human, your loved ones, standing up for your principles, your faith, to love, serving your country.

But seeing your friends now, traveling for business, going to church when you can do all of that virtually isn’t worth risking the lives of your community, family, friends—your life.

The reality is that the virus is still here, alive—killing.

So, friends, please be patient. I want to run out and hug people, strangers even, but resist the urge to mingle, taking unnecessary risks.

Stay vigilant.

Be patient.

Lots of love, John


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