April 2, 2021
by Kimberly Lucey
With many parents grappling with the decision over when to send their child back to school or keep them learning virtually at home, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a study looking at the mental health effects of remote learning. Researchers say more support may be needed for children learning virtually to deal with the effects of the pandemic.
Nearly 25% of parents with children receiving virtual instruction reported worsened mental or emotional health in their children, compared to 16% of parents with children attending in-person learning. They were also more likely to report their kids as less physically active, spending less time outside, and less time with friends.
It's been a year since the efforts to slow the transmission of COVID-19 led districts to shut down school buildings and shift to virtual educational models. CDC researchers note the disruption to the educational experiences of school-aged children, and say the psychosocial stressors these changes have presented can increase risks to mental health and well-being. It also may exacerbate educational and health disparities in vulnerable communities.
The study included responses from nearly 1300 parents with children ages 5 to 12 years old interviewed from October to November of 2020. Parents with children receiving virtual instruction, and also hybrid instruction, were more likely to report an increased risk on 11 of 17 indicators of child and parental well-being.
The toll from this past year hasn't been taken solely on children. The CDC study found parents of children attending school virtually also reported their own emotional distress, as well as difficulty sleeping, loss of work, concern about job stability, child care challenges, and conflict between working and providing child care. They were more likely than parents with children attending in-person school to report such issues.
Researchers say their findings shine a light on the risks virtual instruction presents to both children and parent's mental health, as well as some health-supporting behaviors like outdoors time and physical activity. Children who have been attending virtual or combined instruction could benefit from additional support to handle stress, such as referrals for social and mental health services, or opportunities to find safe physical activity.
The Biden administration has prioritized a return to classrooms, and the CDC recently released guidance for K-12 schools to return to full-time in-person learning. Researchers in this study say they believe community-wide actions to reduce COVID-19 and help schools put proper protocols in place are important to get students back inside schools once again.
About the Author
Kim Lucey is a freelance journalist with more than a decade of experience in the field. Her career has included coverage of big breaking news events like the Sandy Hook school shooting, lockdown in Watertown, MA following the Boston marathon bombings, and Superstorm Sandy. Her in-depth reports have garnered awards, including a focus on treating mental health issues in children. Currently, she is a reporter at a television station covering the news across the Greater Boston Area with an appreciation for fact-finding and storytelling. Follow Kim on Facebook and Twitter.