October 13, 2021

AND NOT FOR THE BETTER: Masks Are Changing How Kids Interact.

With all the things to worry about in 2021, it hadn’t occurred to me to fret about the social impact that masks might have on my son; I’d been so relieved that his public elementary school, in San Francisco, would require them. But here we were. Huxley couldn’t tell his new classmates apart; he had trouble hearing them; he wasn’t sure whether they could hear him; and he became especially disoriented around lunchtime, he said, because that was when all the kids took their masks off. Suddenly they looked like entirely new people. Normally he’s pretty good at making friends, but the confusion was giving him anxiety.

“Even for adults, it is difficult to recognize faces in masks,” says Changhong Liu, a psychologist at Bournemouth University, in the U.K., who studies face recognition. People process faces holistically, he told me, taking in all the features in combination—which is impossible when some of those features are obstructed by a mask, or even sunglasses. And until about age 14, children are still developing their facial-recognition skills.

Some psychologists and educators worry that such impairment in facial processing can lead to a spate of challenges with socialization and communication.

If a mask-loving, San Francisco progressive can come around to the dangers of masks, anyone can.

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