One of the heartbreaking things about the COVID-19 mask mandates has been babies not getting to see people smiling at them. In a normal world, people coo over babies in restaurants and grocery stores and smile at them when they pass by. Gazing at faces is one of the main ways infants and toddlers learn social cues and interpret the world around them. And while babies in the COVID era get to see their parents’ faces, they’re missing out on the smiles of those outside their immediate household—even their own grandparents, in many cases. There are children who were born this past year who have never had the joy of seeing their grandma smile at them—or seeing them face to face at all, for that matter.
I’ve seen it with my own grandsons, both of whom were born right before the pandemic hit. When we’re out in public with them, masked strangers approach and coo at the babies, but without being able to see anything but the eyes, the babies just stare, searching in vain for expressions that match the words they’re hearing. In a sane world, adults smile at the babies and the babies smile back—these social exchanges are essential to children’s development.
Gauging social expressions of masked individuals is hard enough for adults navigating our bizarre dystopian COVID world. Pre-COVID, I was in the habit of smiling at people and saying hello whenever I passed a stranger in the street or at the grocery store. Now, I don’t even bother acknowledging those I pass. With a mask, I feel like some kind of zombie automaton and the normal social graces don’t seem to be worth the effort anymore. When I try to study the eyes of people I meet, everyone looks either frightened or angry, save for those few blessed with the ability to smize. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.
Imagine being 18 months old and all you’ve ever known is a world where everyone is masked. To a toddler, that’s what people look like. No one has mouths or noses and no one ever smiles—they just appear as anxious eyes and face-coverings and muted personalities. How will that affect their development?
A study posted at the NIH website found:
For an infant, this [masking by adults] has the potential for long reaching effects in the early stages of neurobehavioral development. A mask covering the face may affect the infant’s ability to develop facial processing and orientating to or focusing on another person’s face. To re-iterate, newborns prefer looking at faces and clearly have an innate ability to recognise what a face is. Furthermore, newborns can recognise familiar faces, especially ones where a close connection exists, important because newborns are dependent entirely on their parents for survival and need to recognise them. Crucial for this process, is the newborn’s ability to visualise facial expressions. For infants and children to feel safe, there is a heavy dependence on facial expressions as they rely on their parents’ emotional cues via facial expression to regulate their responses towards them or to potentially threatening situations. Karz and Hadani (2020) refer to this as social referencing and if it does not occur, the infant or child feels anxious and unsure of their environment.
Not only that, but how long will it be before a small child wanders off with a stranger, thinking it’s his mom or dad? Last week, we took our 15-month-old grandson to his music class. While the children were not masked, all the adults were. Several times during the class, Oliver (that’s him in the picture above) walked up to a man who resembled his father a bit, looking very confused. He couldn’t seem to understand why the man he thought was his dad wasn’t picking him up and playing with him. It made me angry—and sent a chill up my spine thinking how easy it would be for a masked child molester to entice an unsuspecting child to walk off with him.
I’m sick and tired of these mask mandates. I’m forced to wear one in public (thanks, Ohio Gov. DeWine) even though I’ve had covid and still have the antibodies. My mom, who had the vaccine a month ago, is still forced to wear one. First, we were told that we had to flatten the curve. Then we were told to mask up until there was a vaccine. Now we’re being told that even after everyone is vaccinated we’ll probably still have to wear the stupid masks and social distance.
Oh, and if we’re good girls and boys and obey the government, we’ll be allowed to enjoy some social interaction on Independence Day. If someone had told us two years ago that in 2021 America we’d all be a bunch of faceless zombies who must get permission from the government to shop, eat out, or socialize, we’d have scoffed and insisted it could never happen here. Yet here we are. And our children may have to pay the highest price, sacrificing their education and social development for non-science-based government mandates.
Anyone else completely fed up? Let me know in the comments what you’re seeing out there.