Desi Talk

4 VIEWPOINT April 2, 2021 – that’s all you need to know After Covid, Let’s Keep Our Masks On A s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic con- tinues, Bloomberg Opinion is running a series of columns looking at crisis-inspired innova- tions that promise better living over the long run - frommore resilient economies, cleaner cities and healthier offices to five-star meal kits and less unnecessary business travel . It has been a year since the pandemic hit India and, for me, the oddest thing is how healthy I’ve been. Like most but not all of the people I see on the streets, I have been masked up these past 12 months. I’ve washed my hands religiously and avoided crowds. As a result, for the first time in my life, I haven’t caught a cold all year. This is remarkable. Living in Delhi, with its crowds and its sudden changes of season, usually means one picks up pretty much every bug that’s going around. I am not fond of masks. And, in the steam-bath sum- mers of north India, wearing something on your face can be stifling. And yet I find myself hoping that once this pandemic ends, the habit of mask-wearing will remain. Not all the time, of course. That might be asking too much. But wouldn’t it be great if city-dwellers across the world began to behave a little more like those in East Asia? If, during flu season, people wore masks whenever they planned to take a flight or join a crowd? That if they caught themselves sniffling, they grabbed a mask on their way out the door? I recognize that this dreammight be a little difficult to achieve in some parts of the world. This century has set a ridiculously high bar for partisanship and polariza- tion but, even by those standards, the transformation of mask-wearing into a political statement in the United States and elsewhere has been appalling. Surely, of all the things one could do to prevent the spread of disease, mask-wearing is the easiest to under- stand. Instead, it’s as if one whole section of humanity decided it was perfectly polite to cough in people’s faces. Nor have the health authorities always been as sen- sible about this as one would like: Last March, remem- ber, people like Dr. Anthony Fauci were telling Ameri- cans that “there’s no reason to be walking around with a mask.”While they changed their minds later, inconsis- tent messaging is still damaging. There’s another reason why masks have been the silver lining of this awful year, at least as far as I’m concerned. Last March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered India into one of the most restrictive lockdowns in the world. Markets were shut, deliveries stopped, no- body could buy anything - but I felt rich. Because, lying by the door of my Delhi flat, I had lots of N95 masks. This was not because I miraculously foresaw the pan- demic. (If I had, I would have shorted the market, not bought masks.) Nor had I hoarded masks the moment news of the virus emerged. The reason I had masks on hand was simple: I had bought a large number of them a few winters earlier. Not for fear of the flu but because, in Delhi, even breathing is dangerous. This is the most polluted megacity in the world. In 2020, two-thirds of the world’s most polluted cities were in India, most of them in the northern plains around Delhi. Sensible people, faced with air quality more than 10 times worse than it should be, wear a mask to protect their lungs. Yet, the first few times I went out in Delhi with a mask, I felt foolish. In those halcyon pre-pandemic days, nobody around me was wearing one. They stood chat- ting to each other in the mild winter weather, manfully breathing in the gray, toxic air. That’s yet another reason why I’m glad that people have gotten used to wearing and seeing masks. Even when there’s no pandemic around, going maskless in Delhi can kill you. Mihir Swarup Sharma is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi and head of its Economy and Growth Programme. He is the au- thor of “Restart: The Last Chance for the Indian Economy,” and co-editor of “What the Economy Needs Now.” -Special To TheWashington Post By Mihir Sharma Photo:Twitter@mihirssharma Yes, Your Kids Are Spending More Time On Screens. Stop Feeling Guilty About It M y kindergartner’s class had to go all virtual Friday. My third-grader had an asynchronous day. And I was making a big Zoom presenta- tion. Minutes before I logged on, I handed the boys snacks, water, a TV remote and my iPad. When I reemerged, they reported that they had watched five straight episodes of “Arthur,” while simultaneously build- ing a giant tower in Minecraft. This is when I’m supposed to tell you how guilty I feel. But I don’t, and neither should you. A year into the pandemic, we all know that kids’ screen time has gone up. The kid-oriented Internet services company SuperAwesome reported that children in the United States and Britain started spending dramatically more time with screens when stay-at-home orders went into place. At PBS Kids, we were not surprised to see a 23 percent increase in streaming and a 40 percent increase in game play in the first month of the pandemic - a rise that has held steady compared with pre-pandemic num- bers. But while the circumstances in which children are us- ing screens have changed, media coverage of screen time continues to treat any increase in screen time with alarm and anxiety. No one wanted kids to be out of school for a year and barred from their neighborhood playgrounds; no one expected to have their children with them while they worked every day for a year. Of course screen time has gone up! Why are we shaming parents about it? And why aren’t we curious about whether that screen time itself is different? As should have been obvious, the increases weren’t solely about streaming video binges and online game- play. Instead, virtual schoolwork was a top activity. Kids who previously might have used Facetime only to call their grandparents started using technology to socialize safely with their friends. Most promisingly, parents report that they are watch- ing more content with their kids; a report commissioned by the content companyWildBrain Spark suggests 66 per- cent of parents expect to keep doing this after the pan- demic. This is great news: Research is clear that kids learn more frommedia when they “co-view” with a grown-up. Watching together is also often a social activity: Kids inevitably ask questions and can discuss what they did or didn’t like about a show or movie. Both kinds of conver- sations help kids hone their critical thinking skills. A TV show can inspire conversations about ethical, social or emotional issues. And there are stress-relieving benefits, too: Family movie night in my household inevitably leads to a dance party during the credits. In other words: Not all screen time is the same. Rather than thinking solely in terms of the quantity of the screen time kids are getting, parents should focus instead on the quality of that time. Although the thicket of options on YouTube or other platforms is overwhelming, remember that kids can learn a lot from high-quality educational content, and you’re not on your own in trying to find it. Librarians, teachers and school districts will all have suggestions. And while not everything has to be educational, organizations such as Common Sense Media can help parents check whether content is age appropriate. Don’t leave your kids out of the conversation when finding new shows and games. Many kids are excited about the new tech skills they’re gaining, but their independent searches can lead to content that’s silly at best, or inappropriate and dangerous at worst. In my house, we’ve set rules about searching for new things: My children can search YouTube Kids by themselves, but a parent has to be there for Google or YouTube. When my third-grader wants to watch a new show or download an app, we look up the target age range and reviews together. Often, we’ll watch a story or play the game together. Which brings me back to Friday’s “Arthur” binge. That night at dinner, we asked the boys what happened in the episodes they watched. My kindergartner shared that Francine felt bad for lying about her bicycle being stolen, and that prompted a family conversation about telling the truth and owning up to mistakes - one that continued through most of the meal. Yes, my kids had been glued to a screen for almost three hours that afternoon. But that didn’t make them anti-social or unable to think for themselves. Instead, their deep dive into a fictional world helped them engage with our family in the real one. Why would I feel guilty about that? During the pandemic, Kross has been recommending and himself practicing a second version: temporal dis- tancing, which involves imagining how you’ll feel about a current stressor sometime off in the future, perhaps a year from now, after it’s passed. - Reappraise, and look for meaning “Humans are meaning-making machines,” Eurich said, and finding personally relevant positive meaning in trying experiences - a technique known as positive reappraisal - can broaden and boost your outlook. A 2015 review of studies on older adults showed that posi- tive reappraisal is “an adaptive coping strategy for older adults with wide-ranging benefits,” including for physical health. Eurich recommended reflecting on questions like “What are the strengths or insights that I showed up with in facing the situation?” or “What have I learned about myself or about my most important relationships?” and considering how, amid a trying experience, you might be helping your future self. Reflecting on such questions, she said, can reveal growth or benefits the person hadn’t considered, even if it “doesn’t change its negative reality.” A new appraisal is a step toward tweaking your broader narrative. “The best individual levels of psychological resilience come when we take a really horrible event like a car crash or the death of a loved one [and] turn that into a story of, ‘You know, this really bad thing happened. It was really hard. And I got through it, and here’s what I did to get out of it,’ “ said Daniel Aldrich, director of the Security and Resilience Studies program at Northeastern University. “As opposed to saying, ‘I’m still that person stuck in my house’ or ‘I’m still the person anxious about getting my parents sick.’ It’s hard to maintain that narrative and feel like I’mmoving forward.” Of course, changing one’s narrative isn’t easy, and it might not always be feasible. But Kross, for his part, is welcoming a possible alter- nate narrative now on pandemic resilience. “The discourse right now is so much on the negative side of things, and for very good reason,” he said. “. . . But I do think that [this is] a story about hope.”Without dismissing the United States’ very real suf- fering, he said, “you’re seeing evidence of a society that is not crumbling.”. Sara DeWitt is vice president of PBS KIDS Digital. - TheWashington Post By Sara DeWitt Photo:Twitter@saradewitt