Masks on the Playground: Hoboken Parents Weigh In On Local Mask Requirements

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For months, playgrounds in Hoboken were closed and families had to find outdoor activities elsewhere. But now that playgrounds are open again, current regulations require children ages two and older to wear face masks when playing in local parks. Of course, this major development in the mask-wearing debate has sparked some additional conversations among local parents. That’s why we asked some local mamas and papas to weigh in with their thoughts on little ones wearing masks and shared some ideas of other precautions that could be taken.

masks on playground

What The Experts Say

“My general recommendation is that kids ages two and older should wear a face mask, to the best of their ability,” says Dr. Shrinidi Mani from Riverside Pediatrics. “Some people think that a two-year-old is too young to understand but if you explain it to them, they get what’s going on.”

When it comes to children playing in the playground Dr. Mani recognizes that it’s a complicated situation. “We know that kids don’t just touch the playground equipment, they touch it and then put their hands in their mouth, touch their face, or pick their nose and that’s when the virus is transmitted.”

The Debate

Kids touch everything, it’s almost a scientific fact. With that being the case some parents wonder if wearing a mask while playing at the playground is counterproductive. “Kids wearing masks in playgrounds is not a black and white matter. There are so many factors regarding mask wearing for children. Who are we to judge when we see kids wearing or not wearing masks,” says Caitlin Coletta. “On another note, one thing I have noticed is my three-year-old touching his face constantly in the park, adjusting his mask. So I feel it can be both beneficial and counterproductive at times.”

Speaking of various factors, children may have special needs that are not physically visible which makes it difficult for them to wear masks. Nadia Dahl Jensen has two children with such needs. “Please be aware that there are some special needs children in our community who really struggle with wearing a face mask. The shaming doesn’t help. Meeting my children, you probably wouldn’t know two of our three have autism and attention deficit. There are quite a few children like mine in our community and some are struggling with wearing face masks. I’m so lucky our children are not struggling. Not all disabilities are visible.”

Read More: A How-To Guide to Outdoor Dining With Toddlers

Even parents who are medical professionals struggle with the mask requirement for children who are so young. “This topic makes me feel uncomfortable because I am personally conflicted about it, which is quite intimidating for me to admit because I’m also a doctor,” says Neevee Schweibinz. “As a mom of a 14-month-old girl, I just can’t yet imagine her being able to wear a mask. I know she’s under two and that every month has big leaps in their development, but I do have reservations about masks in the toddler age group.”

While detailed knowledge relating to the virus and all it encompasses is still in the early stages, Dr. Mani says masks are the key. “What we have seen time and time again is that face coverings do help in the prevention of transmitting viruses. The mask limits secretions, no matter the virus in question.”

But Are Masks Enough

With the unpredictability of Covid-19, some parents wonder if masks alone are enough to protect families. “My feeling as a mom is that I cannot protect my children enough. I let them play with everyone but I feel sometimes that I am not being safe enough. They wear masks whenever they are within six feet of people and do not complain. In my mind, I complain more than they do but I am torn inside not knowing if it is enough,” says Malki Mori. “At least they have some layer of protection. I do believe it’s important for them to be out in the playgrounds and socializing because I feel like we have a long winter ahead.”

The common parenthood mantra, “pick your battles” might apply here. Is it worth a meltdown to have children wear a mask? Erin Babcock doesn’t think so. “If she’ll keep it on I definitely encourage it at the playground. But if she takes it off and refuses to put it back on I really don’t care. I let her play with maskless kids too. She is in daycare so what’s the difference? I do encourage her mask-wearing {she is 28 months} but if she refuses to put it on and yells or screams or only keeps it on for 10 minutes, I’m not going to adjust my plans because of it.”

“We are all dependent on each other now more than ever, especially those most vulnerable to complications of this virus. As we all make choices in the best interest of our families {and there are no easy decisions}, I’d ask parents to also consider those children who are medically high risk, as they too are hoping to get back to some sense of normalcy and would like a chance to use the playground,” one mom anonymously shared with Hoboken Girl.

Overall Dr. Mani’s advice to parents is: try your best.

Other Factors

As other parents have expressed, mask-wearing is a complicated issue within the family. Suman Kalra says communicating with her son is harder when she wears a mask. “I’m very conflicted about masks for kids and for parents. I’m thinking specifically for parents with toddlers under 2two. I have to pick up my child every 10 minutes for something or other. He’s literally next to my face. He won’t keep his hands off my face. He’ll pull down my mask, I can’t speak to him through the mask. It defeats the whole purpose if I’m putting my mask on and off every 10 minutes. Of course, I’ll wear it if he’s in the stroller or if I’m by myself but if I have to do this every 10 minutes, I just don’t see the point.” In addition to the conflict with kids wearing masks, there is another issue Suman sees. “What annoys me is grown adults, walking by themselves with no kids and no masks! That is the source of my frustration. Not kids, not parents.”

To encourage kids to wear their masks, Raakhee Singh says parents should model the behavior and take additional measures where possible. “I have a six-year-old and it’s {wearing a mask is} practical, effective, and necessary. I model the behavior by wearing a mask as well. We talked her through the science, the fact that we need to protect others and ourselves and it’s how we have to roll, going forward if she wants to go to the playground.”

“She’s ‘older,’ so we also have a no food policy at the park right now given the masks, dirty hands, etc. We’ve also talked a lot about not being a shaming a**hole if other people aren’t wearing them. Bottom line: we walk away, but we don’t go all mask vigilante about it,” she continued.

See More: Drive-Through + Drive-In Activities for Families in New Jersey

How Young Is Too Young

In some people’s opinions, starting the requirement at two years old might be too young. One such parent, Alanna Mastine, suggests starting at age five and leaving all mask-shaming at home.

“I think making the mask rule five years and older would have been more effective. It’s very difficult to keep masks on very young children and running in almost 100-degree heat with their mouth and nose covered seems unsafe,” she shared with Hoboken Girl.

“We try our best but it’s just not practical. I think people also should keep in mind adults have health issues too that might prevent them from wearing a mask, you just don’t know anyone else’s personal situation and it, unfortunately, leads to animosity and shaming. I know there are so many unknowns with the virus but with all the outrage regarding young children not wearing masks the infection rates in Hoboken are still incredibly low. So what is the mask rule for young children even accomplishing other than more stress?”

In addition to wearing masks, Shweta Narayan-Gursahani hopes surfaces at playgrounds are being cleaned more regularly. “My kids are aged seven and four. They wear masks. I definitely think masks are practical for kids that are able to comprehend the effectiveness in preventing the spread of germs and the fact that we are in the middle of a pandemic. I do not think they are practical for little toddlers under three Also Masks are definitely more important indoors. As alternative measures, I do hope the city has intensified cleaning of playground equipment and park benches,” she told Hoboken Girl.

Another parent in support of increased cleaning measures, Lauren Aydinliyim suggests, “Hand sanitizer stations or repurposing water fountains into handwashing stations. And adults should be wearing masks when inside the play area.”

The Final Verdict

Dr. Mani says masks are the best prevention we have at this point and education on proper mask use and hand hygiene starts in the home. “Parents should focus on two things: practice wearing masks with your kids; the second thing is to sanitize hands often and teach your children not to touch their face,” Dr. Mani says. “They’re running around but they do come within six feet of each other. If you do come within six feet of someone else, wear a face covering.”

Being exposed to the virus is a risk everyone is aware of, so Daniela Quiroba says it’s something we need to accept. “I’m not against or for. I think it is unreasonable to think children under four will keep it on in the heat, plus they do get near each other and touch the same things. We can have the recommendations for using hand sanitizer and not sharing food but going to the park is a risk and as a parent, you should be comfortable with kids not having a mask on.”

Read More: Giving Birth During a Pandemic: A Hoboken Mom Shares Her Story

Daphne Anshel and her daughter have kept things lighthearted and found some humor in all the chaos. “My 4-year-old just suggested that we write a story about a child who does not know how to wear a mask and pulls it up to the top of her head and licks it. I had just mistakenly covered her whole face with her mask. We had this conversation as we quickly left Church Square park because it was full of unmasked teens and tweens in addition to masks-on-the-chin wearing teens and tweens —it’s hard to get it right all around!”

Do you have additional suggestions that the city could take into consideration to help keep families protected during this time?

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Originally from North Carolina, Ainsley became a proud Hoboken Girl years ago. As a freelance journalist she has written about everything under the sun for the past six years. She works from her home office in uptown Hoboken or sometimes from Choc-o-Pain, because nothing says “freelancer” like working from a café with a fresh croissant nearby. As the mother of one very fast toddler, she has a passion for self-care, parenting hacks, and discovering all the fun things the Mile Square has to offer.