In the Spring of 2020, the global pandemic suddenly thrust families and educators everywhere into an uncharted space of involuntary remote learning. None of us were prepared for such a drastic lifestyle change, and parents were forced to figure out how to juggle working while educating their children at home. Children were abruptly disconnected from their friends with hopes of returning to school in the fall.
But children across the globe were disappointed to learn they would not be returning to the classroom, and as a parent, you might be asking yourself, “Is remote learning having a negative effect on my child’s mental health?
This article will discuss remote learning and its potential negative and positive effects on your child’s mental health. We’ll also discuss ways you can help improve your child’s mental health during remote learning.
Is Remote Learning Having a Negative Effect?
It doesn’t require an expert to know that children are struggling with remote learning. Ask any parent, and they will tell you about the changes they see in their children since it began. Of course, distance learning does not impact all children the same. Each child is unique and brings their own personality, strengths, and weaknesses into the experience.
The 4-H National Council recently surveyed teens, and 70 percent of responding teens reported they felt depressed, anxious, or highly stressed; 61 percent said the pandemic had caused them to feel lonely.
In addition to depression, anxiety, and stress, other adverse effects remote learning can have on your child’s mental health include:
Does it feel like you’re always trying to get your child moving to get to their computer classes or get their schoolwork done? Does your child lack motivation, whine, and complain about not wanting to “do school?” If so, you aren’t alone; parents and children around the world are experiencing similar challenges.
For children of all ages, connected relationships with their peers usually spark motivation. Kids are accustomed to interacting with other students and teachers as they work in groups, participate in classroom discussions alongside friends, and banter during break times. They aren’t accustomed to sitting in front of screens in isolation, and lack of social interaction can reduce your child’s motivation. High school students report lacking the peer-driven incentives to get their college applications completed and sent. Additionally, that increased time in front of a computer screen can cause sleep disturbances leading to other negative behaviors.
Sleep disturbances and negative behavior from increased screen time
Dr. Laura Sterni, director of the Hopkins Pediatric Sleep Center at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, has expressed concern about the increased use of digital media remote learning requires and the negative impact on sleep cycles.
Blue light emitted from the computer screen affects your child’s circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock, and causes sleep deprivation. In turn, sleep deprivation affects your child’s brain and mental health.
The amygdala is your emotional control center. It resides in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which regulates emotions, memory, and decision-making. Research reveals that sleep deprivation disrupts the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala leading to difficulty in emotional and impulse regulation.
According to Jennifer Katzenstein, director of psychology and neuropsychology at the Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, this disruption can lead to problems with a child’s mental health. She noted that college students have a tough time creating the organizational skills and distraction-free environment necessary to stay on track academically. These challenges can impact their mental health by producing anxiety
Before you get discouraged, let’s discuss the positive effects remote learning can have on your child’s mental health.
Positive Effects of Remote Learning
Despite some of the recognized adverse effects that remote learning may have on your child, children have the chance to thrive, and many are flourishing in the new digital learning environment.
Families are experiencing strengthened family bonds. Students have opportunities to increase the critical life skill of self-regulation as they brain-storm strategies to get their assignments completed effectively and on time.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that at least 20% of students are bullied at school. For those students, learning at home might be the first time they have felt safe in an educational environment, leading to increased self-confidence and higher academic achievement.
How to Help Your Child’s Mental Health During Remote Learning
In addition to being concerned about if remote learning will negatively affect your child’s mental health, it can feel quite lonely trying to unexpectedly facilitate your child’s education, particularly if you’re navigating work at the same time.
It may not feel better to hear that you aren’t alone because it is so hard, but know that more and more resources are becoming available as mental health and education professionals respond to families’ needs. Consider the following tips:
Seek out supportive resources. The Child Mind Institute supports parents with family resources for remote learning and offers help to navigate remote education’s emotional and mental impact on children and parents. CASEL also provides links to help you with social and emotional learning while your child is remote learning. The American Psychological Association offers tips to motivate your child.
Adequate sleep, healthy nutrition, and exercise are essential. This triad of healthy habits will create the best possible foundation for your child’s mental health. Create a routine bedtime and wake-up time. Provide brain-boosting foods like kid-friendly fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Take frequent breaks away from the computer desk and get your child outside if you can. You can take walks and ride bikes to refresh.
Create a designated school space. A separate area for school can help your child mentally refresh when they take breaks from school responsibilities.
Create time to connect with your child. Ask questions. Listen with intentionality (no phone in hand). Eat meals together and talk. Simply be together.
Have fun. Remember to enjoy this time. For many families, the pace has slowed because of fewer extracurricular activities. Take this unique time to model how to overcome unexpected challenges and enjoy life and one another.
Seek support from a licensed mental health professional. It’s an unprecedented time in history, and the entire family is impacted by the lifestyle changes necessitated from coronavirus and remote learning. If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, Eunoia Counseling can help. Contact us today to discuss your concerns with one of our skilled therapists. We are privileged to come alongside you and provide valuable tools to protect your child’s mental health while remote learning successfully.