Youth-serving organizations that decide to require masks will face some unique challenges. Even after deciding that the advantages of masks outweigh the disadvantages, we still need to help children work around some of the challenges that masks can cause. The main disadvantage that many psychologists identify is that masks can interfere with a child's developing ability to recognize faces. Another related problem is that, because they rely on reading emotions in faces, children in a roomful of masked peers may struggle with recognizing emotions and social interaction. Finally, masks can sometimes interfere with speech recognition.
Fortunately, these challenges are likely to be temporary and adults can help children work around them. Staff members, for example, can keep the same hairstyle or always wear a unique pin to help children recognize them. Children can learn to identify each other by shoes or hats. We may have to teach our children how to express their emotions verbally, which is always a good life skill. We can work harder to enunciate words and help children use other part of their brain to learn languages. Children are adaptable, and with some creative help need not fall behind on important skills. These are all challenges of the pandemic that, fortunately, do not have to become permanent problems.
And though the benefits of mask mandates in schools continue to be debated, the reality is that many school systems have decided—reasonably, to my mind—to institute them for young children. The good news is that teachers and parents can help kids work through any social and emotional obstacles that masks present.