CDC Study Suggests Virtual Learning Can Be Damaging To Children’s Physical And Mental Health
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A new CDC study released last week shows that virtual learning has potentially harmful effects on children. The CDC states that the results of the research “suggest that virtual instruction might present more risks than does in-person instruction related to child and parental mental and emotional health and some health-supporting behaviors.”

Virtual instruction has been used by many institutions of learning since the start of the pandemic forced school closures last year. The research states that in a “probability-based survey of parents of children aged 5–12 years, 45.7% reported that their children received virtual instruction only, 30.9% in-person only, and 23.4% combined virtual and in-person instruction.” The study also showed that children of racial minorities are more likely to be enrolled in online schooling. It states, “Virtual instruction was also more commonly reported by Hispanic parents (65.9%), non-Hispanic other/multiracial parents (64.0%), and non-Hispanic Black parents (54.9%) than by non-Hispanic White parents (31.9%).”

Parents of children in virtual instruction or a combination of in-person and virtual instruction were more likely than parents of children who had in-person instruction to say that their children experienced decreased physical activity, spent less time outdoors, spent less time with friends in-person or in a virtual format, and reported worsened mental or emotional health.

The CDC adds, “Regular physical activity is associated with children’s improved cardiorespiratory fitness, increased muscle and bone strength, and reduced risk for depression, anxiety, and chronic health conditions (e.g., diabetes); therefore, these differences in physical activity are concerning.” It also adds that “isolation and limited physical and outside activity can adversely affect children’s mental health.”

The report concludes, in part, “Parents of children receiving in-person instruction reported the lowest prevalence of negative indicators of child and parental well-being.”

Parents also report negative outcomes regarding the environment of virtual instruction and its effect on them. The CDC report states, “Parents of children receiving virtual instruction were also more likely than were parents of children receiving in-person instruction to report loss of work … job stability concerns … child care challenges … conflict between working and providing child care … emotional distress … and difficulty sleeping.”

The CDC released guidance last week that loosened some restrictions on in-person learning by changing its recommendation to allow for students to remain at least 3 feet apart in classrooms where mask use is universal as opposed to the 6-feet rule that had been previously recommended.

Reopening schools seems to be something that is on the mind of many parents as schools weigh options to get back into the classroom in line with CDC guidance.

The Daily Wire reported earlier this week:

A new poll shows that while parents are worried about COVID-19 spreading at a higher rate if kids return to school, they are also concerned about their children falling behind in their schoolwork and social development.

The poll was conducted by The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. It shows that 69% of parents are “Somewhat” or “Extremely/Very concerned” about their children falling behind academically in school, while 68% show the same level of concern over their children falling behind socially.

Schools that reopened have come under attack by some who see schools as potentially dangerous locations for high transmission of the virus. However, as The Daily Wire reported last week, “Although much of the media has targeted the state of Florida and its GOP governor, Ron DeSantis, for permitting children to return to in-person learning far earlier than most states, having started last August, The Wall Street Journal reports ‘data shows Florida started in-person learning without turning schools into superspreaders.'”

The CDC guidelines on the study regarding the negative impact of virtual learning include the following statement:

What are the implications for public health practice?

Children not receiving full-time, in-person instruction and their parents might need additional supports to mitigate pandemic impacts.

However, the question remains as to how much — or for how long — the negative effects of virtual learning can be mitigated before a return to the classroom is necessary or achievable.

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