CDC Study Says Virtual Schooling is Taking a Toll on Parents and Kids’ Physical, Mental, and Emotional Health

Gabrielle and Ethan Archibald take school classes virtually as schools go back online to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Ramsey, New Jersey, U.S. September 11, 2020. Kimberlee Bradshaw Archibald/Handout via REUTERS

Parents with kids stuck home during the pandemic will tell you how stressed they are, but now the CDC has scientific evidence that virtual schooling is taking a real physical and emotional toll — driving some parents to drugs and alcohol to help cope.

The findings, published Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggest that virtual learning “might present more risks than in-person instruction related to child and parental mental and emotional health and some health-supporting behaviors.”

Schools nationwide were quickly shuttered last spring as the coronavirus rapidly swept across the U.S., forcing millions of students and their parents to unexpectedly grapple with online learning throughout the year. While some states have made extensive efforts to return children to the classroom, others have struggled to respond to safety concerns from parents and educators.

Increased stress levels

The CDC surveyed 1,290 parents or legal guardians of school-age children up to age 12 between October and November. Among participants, 45.7% said their kids received virtual instruction, 30.9% in-person and 23.4% of kids were in a hybrid teaching program.

Overall, almost half — 46.6% — of all parents reported increased levels of stress, 16.5% said they were using more drugs or alcohol and 17.7% said they had trouble sleeping, among other deleterious effects from the pandemic. But those with kids in full-time or part-time virtual learning programs reported higher levels of suffering across the board than parents with kids in school, researchers found.

More than half, 54%, of parents with kids stuck in virtual school said they suffered from increased emotional distress, 16.4% said they were increasingly using drugs or alcohol and 21.6% said they had trouble sleeping at night. Those issues were less prevalent among parents with kids attending school in person. Just 38.4% of those parents said they were more stressed, 13.7% said they were using drugs or alcohol to cope and 12.9% said they had trouble sleeping at night.

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SOURCE: CNBC, Hannah Miao and Noah Higgins-Dunn

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