Yes, children have fallen behind. But behind what?

We all know this pandemic has been very hard on adults, kids--even pets. We are worried about the impact of this interruption in our existence, and even more about the impact it is having on our children. We talk about them falling behind and of the loss of learning. And of course, because we are conscientious parents, that is a natural reaction to this historic global setback.

Why are we all so concerned? Well, we worry about whether our children are learning what they need to learn, and whether all this downtime, screen time, and video gaming will ruin their eyes, their attention spans, and their cognitive abilities.

We are alarmed by their lack of physical activity and socialization. Children require exercise. It is in their DNA. Exercise relieves stress, improves circulation, staves off disease, and improves brain function. And over the past year, our kids aren’t getting as much as they need; not to mention the endorphin rush and socialization attached to team play.

As social creatures, children benefit from feeling connected to and part of something greater than themselves. In fact, our ability to communicate and collaborate is responsible for human dominance on this planet. Few inventions in our history were the work of one person, and today communication and teamwork are considered to be some of the most essential skills.

Therefore, let us not deny that this pandemic has been hard on children's physical and mental health.

That said, I´m going to encourage you to look at it from a different perspective. As a father of a 26-year-old and a 22-year-old, as someone who has worked with thousands of children, adolescents, and young adults, I have seen many things in my time–things that surprised me about how resilient children are. I´ve seen children who came from compromised circumstances blossom and thrive as adults. I´ve seen less athletic and overweight children become sports stars. I watched a young man with cystic fibrosis become a fitness fanatic.

Winston Churchill´s father was absent, and he died when Winston was young. At age seven, Winston was sent off to boarding school, where he was bullied because he had a severe lisp. He has said that flogging was part of the curriculum. Psychologists suggest that he likely suffered from ADHD or dyslexia. His schoolmaster said he would never amount to anything. I think it's fair to say that he ended up just fine. 

Let's accept that being out of school and learning online is less effective than being face-to-face with our gifted teachers; and thus, yes, your children have indeed fallen behind.

But behind what, I ask? Behind their peers? I doubt it. The rest of the world is in this with us, and Portugal has fared much better than many other countries. Behind their grade-level expectations? Probably; however, grades are a social construct. No one expects children to grow at the same rate. We have students far more physically mature than others in their age groups, and of course, the same can be said about emotional and cognitive development. We know girls mature faster than boys in almost every regard, but by the time they're 60, men generally catch up.

So please, as you attempt to assuage your concerns about the weeks they have spent out of class, please remember that kids are resilient. They have the greatest capacity of any of us to grow quickly. Research shows that children from affluent families who attend good schools have a 30-million-word advantage over students who don´t have these benefits. Your children are the lucky ones in this pandemic. They are the most likely to go on to successful school and professional lives. Additionally, they have doting parents who pay attention and refuse to give up on them, and a school in TASIS Portugal that will do everything in its power to make sure they recover (and more than that, thrive) in their school experience.

I often say that few people look back after they retire and say, “If only I had graduated a year earlier.” So try to relax, hug your children, and be thankful for all the advantages they have in this lifetime and at a school like TASIS Portugal.

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