Michael Rich: What will change as a result of the pandemic

For Part 2 of the Voices on the Future of Childhood series, we asked experts to take a stab at predicting the future by offering their thoughts on “What will change in the coming months and/or years as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.” 

ME to WEand letting boredom nurture tomorrow’s Picasso

Michael Rich

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, practices Adolescent Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, and is Founder and Director of the Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH).

Like 9/11, COVID-19 is an era-defining, paradigm-changing watershed. Unlike 9/11, COVID-19 does not present an enemy we can fight. Coronavirus is opportunistic and indiscriminate, with no nationality, politics, allies, or enemies. We must defend, not with the familiar “us against them” mentality, but by protecting each other to protect ourselves: “us with us.” Technology had allowed us to become complacent and arrogant, to focus on ME. But now we have had to flip the M, transforming ME into WE. Not only must we physically distance ourselves to be more socially connected, protecting others more vulnerable, but “stay at home” orders—with parents and children trying to work, learn, and live together 24/7—have made WE physically concrete.

We have struggled with the constraints and annoyances of forced togetherness, but discovered opportunities to emerge healthier, more empathetic to others, and more mindful of ourselves. Children who saw the Internet as a playground now need it to learn, produce, communicate, and connect—a power tool, not a toy. Parents are understanding that it is not screen time that must be controlled, but content and contexts of our media use. Both are realizing that constant screens exhaust and don’t sustain us, displacing richer experiences of shared meals and laughter, walks in nature, and boredom. Instead of reflexively defaulting to cyber-babble, let’s embrace boredom, let its mild discomfort fuel creativity and imagination. Let’s be grateful to each other for keeping us safe, and respect ourselves enough to spend our time, attention, and affection wisely.


See more posts in this series:

Voices on the Future of Childhood

Alan Gershenfeld | Caroline Hu Flexer | David Kleeman | Jeremy Bailenson

Matthew Kam | Michael Rich | Mimi Ito | Warren Buckleitner


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