By Clélia Lacarrière (2EA)
How much of the news coverage on your feed has been taken over by COVID-19? Now, how many of these articles have been about children, the most mentally vulnerable part of the population? COVID-19 is a global pandemic that has greatly changed and affected the world in the past year, mainly causing lockdowns for extended periods of time in various countries around the world. In the media, one of the main focuses of the coronavirus’s repercussions has been the economy. Apart from the insecurities surrounding the opening of schools, children have been entirely cast apart by the general public. Although there is some mental health awareness for other age groups, there has been very little to none for children, who are the most influenced by their surroundings and life experiences. How has COVID-19 affected elementary school children both from a public and an intimate scale?
Before Lockdown, elementary school children’s way of learning predominantly involved going to in-person school and having direct interactions with teachers and fellow students. Unfortunately, according to the American National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the nationwide closures of schools have negatively impacted over 91% of the world’s student population. The home confinement of children is associated with uncertainty and anxiety which leads to disruption in their education, physical activities and opportunities to socialize. The new online school system and its lack of structure results in disruption in routine, boredom and lack of innovative ideas for engaging in various academic and extracurricular activities. Some children have expressed lower levels of affect for not being able to play outdoors, not meeting friends and not engaging in the in-person school activities. These children have become more clingy, attention seeking and more dependent on their parents due to the long term shift in their routine. It is presumed that children might resist going to school after the lockdown and may face difficulty in establishing rapport with their teachers after the schools reopen. As a result, the constraint of movement imposed on them can have a long term negative effect on their overall psychological well being. These effects manifest quite highly in children with special needs as they are heavily reliant on adults. This is common as well in children with poorer socio-economic backgrounds who grow up in a more constrained environment as social inequality has been associated with the risk of developing mental health challenges.
COVID-19 has been a demanding time for parents of young children as they have to work and take care of their children simultaneously. Compared to adolescents, younger children demand more attention from their parents They need their parents’ physical presence and need to engage in more indoor play related activities with them. Children also require parents to devote time to provide them with undivided, positive attention and reassurance which can be hard to do if working. In these troubling times, children also need more reassurance and basic information from their parents. The parents are required to properly explain how to act under COVID-19 related circumstances and involve their family in fun and engaging activities to make sure they are coping. A child needs their parents that enforce a consistent routine throughout the day,with enough opportunities to play, read, rest and engage in physical activity. This is extremely time consuming as it requires keeping an eye on your child the entire day. In short, parents need to be present at the child’s side consistently throughout the day while also providing for the family.
Agathe Lacarierre, a 5th grader who has gone to both an American and a French public school during the Pandemic, was interviewed to get more of a sense of what the children themselves think of the situation. Agathe said that she has adapted quite easily to the new school rules in France, but that they did not always make sense to her. However, she was very insistent that the American school system has greatly affected her as there was no in-person learning. She explained: “I missed my friends because I could only see them through Zoom, also I was not very focused on my work because online school was boring.” She stressed multiple times the difficulty of going to school with a mask and how it made socializing especially difficult. Agathe discussed how “the teacher can’t really hear me [her] with my[her] mask” and how others cannot clearly see her emotions which makes it harder to make new friends. She greatly agreed with the school’s decision of forcing everyone to wash their hands in the morning and change masks in the middle of the day, even though it is sometimes hard to explain it to “the little kids”. Additionally, she thinks that the eating breaks should be more controlled and limited as she recognizes the danger there is in taking off her mask near other classmates. She concluded the interview by saying that, in France, school stayed more or less the same except that it is now much more stressful for her, but that she is still very grateful as, during online learning, she would bother her mom all the time.
Overall, the pandemic has deteriorated the mental growth of youngsters, making them less sociable and more dependent on their parents. Their inability to exercise their bodies makes for poor physical growth. The interviewee herself reiterated the difficulty of masks and connecting with others. One could now consider how COVID has affected older students, especially university students, who are heavily dependent on a social life and are isolated in these troubling times.