Be more like Spider-Man

We need to normalize mask use – for the kids

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

This rant starts like many others: with something I saw on the internet. In early December, a fitness influencer, Manitoba mom and acquaintance of mine shared an anti-masker’s critique of Highlights magazines on her Instagram stories. 

The problem? Recent issues of their children’s publications showed cartoon characters wearing masks. I won’t repeat what the now-viral post caption said, but another anti-masker’s comment caught my attention. 

“Folks, this ain’t normal!”

Ain’t that the truth. There’s nothing normal about life during a pandemic, especially when that includes rarely leaving the house, keeping apart from family and teaching preschoolers how to wear face masks. 

It’s fair to say just about everyone is dealing with fear, stress and uncertainty lately, but all these emotions are often exacerbated for kids who don’t know or understand what’s happening. That’s why it’s crucial to normalize the behaviours that are now synonymous with the COVID-19 pandemic: diligent handwashing, staying home and, yes, wearing masks. 

According to Health Canada and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anyone older than two years old should wear a face mask when in public or around people outside their household. 

Showing Highlights characters wearing their masks at tree farms, doctors’ offices and grocery stores is just the beginning. Entertainment media, parents and teachers can go a step further than simply normalizing pandemic life. They can and should try to make this “new normal” fun, too. 

In the United States, PBS Kids released an Arthur short about why healthy people need to wear masks. The network also had the Kratt Brothers remind viewers to “Stay strong, stay calm and activate your mask power!”

Even adults are getting in on this. At the start of the pandemic, news outlets quickly listed song segments to play for the full 20 seconds you’re supposed to spend washing your hands. Locally, Tiber River Coteries hung lyrics beside all their sinks, in case humming something from The Greatest Showman or ’90s boy bands made the task a little easier. 

As one San Diego mother interviewed by The Washington Post noted, her family and friends in Taiwan have worn masks for a while, and “the successful messaging revolves around superheroes.” 

“It’s totally doable,” To-wen Tseng commented. “All the kids now know Spider-Man is the true hero, because he covers his nose and mouth and protects himself and others. Batman is not the hero we need right now, because he covers only his forehead and ears.” 

A Minnesota nurse told the Star Tribune that positive images of people wearing masks can help young children make sense of what’s happening right now. 

“The way that they understand their world is through the faces around them, and that’s how they feel safe. But when faces are covered – and we know that from Halloween – it’s like the ground is shifting under their feet. So, we need to do what we can to help.”

For older kids, celebrities and icons modelling masks can also help normalize their use, despite some of the more unpleasant side effects, like bad breath or maskne. Fashion YouTuber Sierra Schultzzie started using #MaskItMonday on Instagram to show her favourite “mask looks” every week. 

Despite all the misinformation and fear-mongering circling online, Highlights is doing things right. Just ask Spider-Man. 

Danielle Doiron is a writer, editor and marketer who splits her time between Winnipeg and Philadelphia. She’s spending the pandemic reading, practising yoga and cursing out the governments in both cities she calls home.

Published in Volume 75, Number 14 of The Uniter (January 14, 2021)

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