Concerned parents have revealed how their children feel unpopular and upset after being left out of the friendship bubbles recently created to combat social isolation during the pandemic.
The NSW government on Tuesday eased restrictions to allow children to have their own social bubble in time for the school holidays, a move described by experts as ‘imperfect’.
As with the adult singles bubble, the goal is for lonely children to spend time with friends.
But parents have revealed the “dark side” of the plan, increasing bullying and rejecting children’s invitations from “friends” who have gotten better offers.
‘They are children. Bullying is widespread on school grounds, why make it harder for them? Asking a child to choose a friend is like letting him loose in a lollipop shop and asking him to choose one,” said one mother.
Devastated parents have revealed their kids feel left out, unpopular and upset after not being picked as part of another kid’s friendship bubble
“This was predictable and an easy way to increase bullying,” agrees another.
Psychologist Vijay Solanki from ParentaEQ, an app that provides mental health support to parents, told FEMAIL the new arrangement isn’t perfect.
“Children are the invisible victims in this lockdown, especially when it comes to mental health,” he said.
“We come across many anecdotal cases showing that the bubble system is not perfect, but these cases are in the minority.”
dr. Solanki said it’s important for adults to take advantage of the bubble even if their child’s friend isn’t available, or they can only find one friend.
“Turning it into something positive, and even using it as a way for your child to make a new friend, could be a way to enlighten them by the fact that their friends have their own bubbles that they don’t belong to.” .’
Concern about the bubble has become a hot topic among parents online.
A conversation sparked after reports that a teenage girl had been given photos of two of her friends and was devastated that she couldn’t be with them.
“I was thinking about this today, this would be horrible for a teenage girl,” one woman said in response to the story.
What is NSW’s under-18 friendship bubble?
Children and teens aged 18 and under can create a ‘friend bubble’ to allow home visits, provided the adults in their homes are fully vaccinated.
WHAT ARE THE RULES?
1 – Each child is allowed to have two designated friends come to their house. These two friends must always be the same, creating a ‘friend bubble’ for three people
2 – All people over the age of 18 in all households must be fully vaccinated
3 – The friends must live within 5 km of each other or in the same LGA and
4 – If parents and/or guardians drop off children, they are not allowed to stay to have contact with other parents or guardians.
SOURCE: NSW Health
Others said their children were invited into a bubble before the invitation was withdrawn when the other child received another offer.
“This took my anxiety level up a notch by trying to reassure my 13-year-old boy, who has already been rejected by some friends when he asked them to be in a bubble with him. I know it will be great for some families, but it felt very stressful for mine,” one mother revealed.
The rules state that children must choose two friends and these friends must be the same until the end of the current restrictions.
The friends must live in the same government area or within a 5 km radius, and all adults in the household must be fully vaccinated.
“It can get pretty awkward if you have to ask people if they’re vaccinated so your kids can play, I’m just going to avoid it,” said one mother.
“I’m the same, I haven’t told mine and I don’t intend to. It just makes it harder.’
The idea of ”ranking friends” was also a disturbing idea for parents.
“I’m already really upset and I just hope no one says it to my youngest, who has some friends that they adore, but who have friends that are much higher on their list than my little one,” lamented a mother.
Others said it was up to parents to eradicate bullying and encourage inclusive behavior.
“Hopefully kids and parents will consider their wider friendship groups when communicating with each other. It’s fragile ground for children right now,” said one mother.
Others suggested involving ‘omitted’ friends in other activities, such as picnics and beach outings where they are allowed to play with different children.
“Keep out of contact with a mix of kids and be nice,” one mother suggested.
What can parents do if their children are not in a social bubble?
dr. Solanki said children need physical social connections, and the routines that surround these interactions can help them sleep better, eat better and improve their mood.
He insists that anything that helps get kids back into their routine can start to repair the damage done during the lockdown.
If kids are unable to join their friends in a bubble, parents can do the following:
Connect with their children – Parents should make time every day to fully connect with their children. During this time, the children should be the only concern and all other distractions such as work and telephones should be set aside.
Give them affection – Smiles, lots of eye contact and hugs can go a long way. The affection can extend to making positives out of the situation, including having the child make a list of people they want to be friends with. This can lead to a new friendship.
Listen Actively – Instead of half-listening, be genuinely involved. Ask what upsets them and come up with strategies together that show you’ve been listening.
dr. Solanki agreed that gatherings in parks can be helpful, but rules must be followed.
The psychologist said he believes it was more beneficial to let children “make a new friend” and nurture that friendship.
“In the end, a bandage is better than none,” he said.
Some parents criticized the fact that three children are allowed in each bubble.
‘Three is a difficult number anyway, because one child may remain on the outside. We spend time with different people and get different things out of it. This is perhaps one of the most damaging suggestions for children. Not well thought out at all,” said one mother.
“I feel like the sentiment behind the friendship bubble was well-intentioned, but probably not as well thought out as it could have been – they were eager to give kids liberties on school holidays and didn’t really think about the social implications. I think it’s our job as parents to deal with it as best we can. For several reasons, a three-person bubble doesn’t work for my kids, so they meet in the park so no one is left out.”
The three-person bubble also applies to HSC students over the age of 18, so that they can study in groups.