Zoom fatigue has become the go-to term for the exhaustion that follows video conferencing — whether it’s Google Hangouts, Meet, Skype, or GoToMeeting — and there are many reasons why the fatigue is real for kids.
Zoom's Inherent Challenges for Kids
The first thing kids are asked to do on Zoom is mute themselves to eliminate distracting background noise. However, the empty sound void, combined with the visual stimulation, can put young minds into hyper drive. Kids find themselves searching for non-verbal cues, like a shoulder shrug or raised eyebrow, that are easily picked up in-person but hard to read from tiny faces inside boxes on a screen. This makes Zoom much more challenging for kids to focus on than group meetings at school.
Complicating matters even further is a child’s hyper-awareness of how they look on camera. Video calls are now a performance time, whether the performance is to speak or listen quietly. All of their actions are on display to people on the screen, which takes a lot of mental energy to sustain and is ultimately exhausting.
Technology does not always favor the brave. Whenever someone wants to speak, kids have to patiently wait their turn while classmates go through the "unmute, speak, re-mute ritual." Then, if their own screen freezes the moment they begin to share, it can feel not only frustrating but like a total time and energy spoiler. Tech fails can become a deterrent to future participation.
So yes, Zoom fatigue is real for kids, but video conferencing is a critical piece of the distance learning puzzle, and it’s what we’ve got to work with for the time being.
Since Zoom now has a new and rather large place in your child’s life, your job as a parent is to help find a new balance. Kids have deep social, emotional, academic, and physical needs. Zoom, at its best, is addressing the child’s academic and possibly some social/emotional needs. But in order to combat the fatigue that goes along with Zoom’s benefits, we need to support and rebalance the at-home learning scale.
If Zoom is so depleting, how can we restructure to provide harmony and balance during the at-home learning day?
Zoom Fatigue Solutions
Below are nine effective strategies to help create a new balance and fight off Zoom fatigue for your child learning at home:
1. Keep Zoom in its place
Creating a particular space in your home where school always takes place is essential (read more here). Kids should only take Zoom calls in this at-home learning environment to manage school boundaries within the home. Creating physical boundaries for school helps mentally prepare kids for learning, and also allows for different parts of the home to feel more relaxing and mentally non-invasive.
2. Tweak Zoom settings
In order to lessen performance anxiety and self-consciousness on camera, tweak the settings on Zoom to "Gallery View." This feature shows all participants in equal-sized frames on screen. Seeing themselves in a grid rather than as the main focus of the screen helps kids contextualize their visibility and reduce the feeling that all eyes are on them.
3. Do a visual self-check
Encourage your child to do a self-check in their camera view before meetings begin. This will allow them to see exactly how they are presenting themself to the group. After this self-check, kids should practice shifting their focus to whoever is speaking. When kids focus on the speaker, rather than their own image during a meeting, they can use their mental energy to learn rather than feel self-conscious.
4. Discourage multitasking
Encourage your child to pay attention and to avoid multitasking. Trying to do too many things at once taxes the brain and results in mental fatigue. Focusing on the topic will help with later academic efforts as well.
Provide your child with a doodle pad to draw or doodle while still listening. In my opinion, doodling is NOT multitasking; it is a physical expression of mental processing, especially if the doodling includes key words or images from the discussion. Consider doodling a form of note taking. Doodling also adds a new and purposeful visual focus and can even reinforce discussion topics later if your child is listening well.
6. Find a friendly face
Encourage your kiddo to find a Zoom buddy! Prearrange a time for the kids to make connections outside of group Zoom calls, possibly in-person if safe social distancing is feasible. If kids log on to their Zoom calls knowing they have a buddy to make eye contact with and exchange an intentional friendly smile with, they will have a personal connection to look forward to during the call. This can be a point of joyful delight.
7. Practice compassion and kindness
Kids, parents, and teachers are being asked to show up and participate in ways we have never explored before. We are operating in a brand new way of learning and existing in the world. Practicing compassion and kindness for everyone on the call is vital and can even overcome some of Zoom’s limiting factors. If your child is having a hard time focusing, one tool they can use to stay present is to listen to the speaker with compassion and wish them kindness as they share. This might sound fluffy, but there is not one situation I can think of that couldn’t do with more compassion and kindness. This strategy would require pre-teaching on your part, and possibly a reminder during the call.
8. Keep Zoom calls to the bare minimum
Since school is co-opting Zoom for learning, we need to build in other socially distant ways for kids to connect with peers. Consider outdoor meet-ups with masks as an alternative to Zooming friends for personal connections. We all need friends. Making space for socially distant meet-ups is challenging, but well worth the benefits during these isolating times.
9. Nature Is Zoom’s antidote
Getting outside and breathing fresh air is the antidote to Zoom. Nature is everything Zoom is not, and in order to regain balance, kids need to get outside. Take a walk or go to the beach. While working at home, open the windows and let the sunshine fall on your kiddo’s face or the cool breeze blow through the workspace. If your child is scheduled to be on three Zoom meetings per day, schedule the same amount of time (or more!) to be outdoors playing. Nature is the greatest equalizer.
Tech expectations for kids are at an all-time high, and finding a new balance to combat Zoom fatigue is critical.
Taking into account kids’ social, emotional, academic, and physical needs is hard but essential work.
Offset Zoom fatigue by encouraging compassion, tweaking Zoom’s features, creating a physical Zoom space in the home, and building in time to be outside.
Nature is Zoom’s antidote and the greatest equalizer.
"Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience." —Ralph Waldo Emerson