My son is 13, and to be honest, I never saw him as all that social. From what I can tell, other kids at school like him, and his teachers often speak highly of him at parent teacher conferences. But outside of riding bikes around the neighborhood with another boy from down the street, he mostly spends his time reading books in his room, fighting homework, and asking for screen time.
I suppose I always assumed he was a bit of an introvert, like me and his mother. But now that we are under a stay at home order, it has become more and more apparent that my assumption was wrong, and he misses his friends pretty badly. He talks a lot about how lonely he is, and although he has chatted with his friends from time to time over the phone, none of it has really made a difference in his moping around the house.
But two weeks ago, a boy from church invited him to play Dungeons and Dragons with some other boys he knew via Zoom, and it’s been a game changer.
Now let’s get one thing straight: my son is a Harry Potter nerd. He’s into Roblox and Minecraft, and Marvel. He likes Star Wars. He gets his geek on pretty regularly, and I respect that about him. But the most either of us knew about D&D was from watching Stranger Things and Onward, so I’m not going to lie, when he was invited to play a double-down notoriously nerdy game with dragons and wizards and toxic gelatinous cubes, I was surprised that he said “yes” without hesitation.
It’s a group of about ten boys. They meet online twice a week, and I’m not sure what they talk about exactly. I mean, it’s English, but the words, phrases, and terms make little sense to me. But the giggling — that, I understand. The over-the-top, crying laughter is undeniable. It basically sounds like one long, obnoxious laugh track of little boys cackling at our dinner table for an hour straight. I don’t know how much D&D actually gets played. I don’t know if this means my son will become a long term D&D player, or if this is just a pandemic thing.
But what I do know is that he went from moping, to having something to look forward to, and the power of that is undeniable.
These Zoom meetings have become his motivation to finish his schoolwork, because he can’t log in if he isn’t caught up with his homeschool packets. They have become his motivation to finish work around the house, and be nice to his sisters, because the last thing he wants is to lose the privilege of playing D&D online. He smiles more, and tells me stories about what they talked about. All of it is pretty typical 13-year-old talk, farts and immature jokes, but he seems to be a lot happier because of it, so I’m down.
As a bonus, it’s been easy for me. I really didn’t have to do anything to help set this up outside of show Tristan how to download Zoom. The kids run the show. We have rules about computer usage in bedrooms, so he can only use his laptop in a public space — that’s why he sets up shop at the kitchen table.
But the most important thing is that although he can’t see his friends at school, or church, or around our neighborhood, he can still see them online, and while it isn’t the same as face-to-face interaction, it has been a tremendous boost to his disposition. And during a difficult time like trying to understand a pandemic when you are 13, it has been the boost he needed to change his mental health.
Naturally, if you are thinking of doing this yourself, it doesn’t have to be D&D. I’ll be the first to admit, if you’d have told me in January that by April we’d all be on quarantine, and my son would be looking forward to D&D parties on Zoom, I’d have laughed. But here we are, and I must say, I’m grateful. I assume the kids could simply play anything online. I don’t think the game is even what’s important right now. It’s the social interaction. It’s the chatting and laughing and making the best of it with friends. That, above all, is what he needed.
So if your children are moping around, missing their friends, encourage them to set up a Zoom party. Sure, you could suggest D&D. Or you could get them to just get on and tell each other jokes, or talk about their day … really anything. But don’t forget about your children’s need for social interaction, particularly if they are teens. Be creative, and use the technology around you.
Because in the absence of real-life togetherness, you’ll be surprised at what a good substitute a virtual hangout can actually be.