Children's social worlds have been upended
by the suspension of school and extracurricular activities due to the pandemic. Many older children and adolescents have been able to maintain their friendships over social media
. But, for younger children, this approach is less likely to be available to them and less likely to meet their social needs. In some places, a silver lining of Covid-19 may well be the resurgence of childhood friendships in American neighborhoods.
Shifting locations for play
Over the last 30 years, children's friendships have been largely forged in the classroom
and during extracurricular activities
. That's because, on average, children spend 6.5 hours a day in school, and 57% of children spend every day or most days involved in extracurricular activities
. These settings provide not only an environment for learning, but also opportunities to make friends, learn about what is expected social behavior and build skills for social relationships.
But in the not-too-distant past, children's friendships were formed and maintained within the American neighborhood. Friends on average lived less than a quarter-mile apart
and were predominantly from the same neighborhood
. Children who lived close to one another
were found to have high-quality friendships
that were more frequent, emotionally intimate and longer-lasting than those that did not.
Research shows neighborhood-based play may have distinct advantages, as it is often characterized by mixed-age peer groups
. Having groups of friends with both older and younger playmates may uniquely support children's development
by allowing them to both learn skills from those that are older, while also serving as role models and mentors for children who are younger.