We’re one, maybe two weeks into the coronavirus quarantine and, for the kids, the walls are closing in, just a bit. The unlimited screen time fest is just beginning losing its luster. The social itch that defines us as humans — that is perhaps the defining traits of homo sapiens — is starting to cause the kids discomfort. They want friends. They want fights. They want… to see other people their age and explore what it means to be a social creature.
But they can’t.
Social isolation and playdates just don’t mix. If the idea hasn’t sunk in yet, it must. A few playdates here and there amount to a massive amount of contact with people, places, and things that could all be carrying COVID-19. It’s basic math, and the odds are not in the favor of humans.
But loneliness and boredom crush rational thinking. Seeing people isn’t rational, it is instinctual. It’s a need. People are gonna playdate, no matter how dangerous.
Fortunately, Dr. Logan Spector, a pediatric epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota has a very simple, very brilliant plan he calls “friend monogamy.” It’s simple really: “Pick a friend, one buddy, and only let your kids play with them, and” — the next part is crucial — “vice versa. It’s not going to work if you have a playdate with a different set of friends each day.”
This is a helpful way to think about social distancing in general. Everyone you come in contact with, talk to, kick a soccer ball with is now part of your germ family. COVID-19 is not just highly contagious from person-to-person (though it is the prime means of transmission), but emerging studies from NEJMJ and Emerging Infectious Diseases show that indirect transmission of COVID-19 through inanimate objects or aerosolization can happen. What’s this mean on a playdate? A basketball can spread COVID-19, a nearby cough can do you in, the 6-foot rule is very much a thing— one that is impossible to follow on a playdate if we’re being honest with ourselves.
So one answer is to expand your infectious family, just a little, with monogamous friendships. But for this to work, there must be a commitment. The parents “must commit to only playing with each other for the duration of the social distancing,” says Spector. There’s a hard stop here. If they’re playdate dabbling, that’s cheating and they need to come clean and you need to, to extend the metaphor, break up the relationship.
Should every family get a monogamous relationship? Not if they can help it. If you have two kids and they both want different monogamous friends, the risk increases. It’s as simple as that. How about instead they learn to play with each other well, most of the time? Stick to that and your infectious family drops by eight people, not to mention each of the persons come into contact with by accident on a walk or at a grocery store. Your kids playing together with each other for weeks on end might be more fraught, but it’s safer for everyone.
And if you have three or more kids? Lucky you! Let your kids play together in familial harmony — with the occasional discord — while you try to work from the kitchen. Right now, that’s just good parenting.