Parents stressed, some turned to drugs, alcohol: CDC

A student raises her hand in her virtual classroom at the Roxbury YMCA in Boston on September 21, 2020.

Suzanne Kreiter | Boston Globe | Getty Images

Parents with children sitting at home during the pandemic will tell you how stressed they are, but now the CDC has scientific evidence that virtual schoolwork takes a real physical and emotional toll – some parents are addicted to drugs and alcohol.

The findings, published Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggests that virtual learning “may pose more risks than personal instructions related to the mental and emotional health of children and parents and some health-supporting behaviors.”

Schools nationwide closed quickly last spring when the coronavirus quickly forced the U.S. to unexpectedly grapple with millions of students and online learning throughout the year throughout the year. While some states have made extensive efforts to return children to the classroom, others have struggled to respond to problems involving parents and educators.

Increased stress levels

Between October and November, the CDC surveyed 1,290 parents or legal guardians of children up to 12 years of age. Among the participants, 45.7% said that their children received virtual education, 30.9% personally and 23.4% of the children were in a hybrid education program.

Overall, almost half – 46.6% – of all parents reported increased levels of stress, 16.5% said they used more drugs or alcohol and 17.7% said they had trouble sleeping, among other harmful effects of the pandemic. But those with children who have full-time or part-time virtual learning programs reported higher levels of suffering than parents with children in school, researchers found.

More than half, 54%, of parents with children trapped in virtual school said they were suffering from increased emotional distress, 16.4% said they were increasingly using drugs or alcohol and 21.6% said they had trouble sleeping at night. These problems were less common among parents with children who went to school in person. Only 38.4% of parents said they were more stressed, 13.7% said they used drugs or alcohol to cope, and 12.9% said they had trouble sleeping at night.

Substance use

Increased substance use was most common among parents with children in hybrid learning programs – where students were virtual some days and others in class – with 20.5% reporting more use, researchers found.

Parents with children in virtual learning programs are also likely to have lost their jobs, worrying about job stability, the challenges of childcare and the conflict between their work and children.

Virtual learning was also more difficult for students, researchers found.

More than half, 62.9%, of parents with children learning at home said that their children exercise less, 58% said that they spend less time on it, 86.2% said that they spend less time with friends and 24.9% said their children’s mental or emotional health had deteriorated.

The findings, which according to researchers represent the wider U.S. population, said virtual instructions are more common among parents and ethnic minorities. Further research is needed to determine whether distance education has an excessive negative effect on the groups.

Disruption of services

New school management

Nearly half of the K-12 students are re-learning in person five days a week, while another 30% go to school personally at least part of the time, according to recent data from Burbio, a service that monitors school opening plans. Nearly 21% of students still only learn online.

The CDC on Friday updated its safety guidelines for reopening schools, thus reducing the recommendation for social distance from 6 feet to 3 feet, as long as everyone wears masks.

“CDC is committed to leading with science and updating our guidance as new evidence emerges,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, said in a statement. “Safe personal education gives our children access to critical social and mental health services that prepare them for the future, in addition to the training they need to succeed.”

Biden urged the countries to be eligible for all educators by the end of March. As for the students, dr. White House medical officer Anthony Fauci said Wednesday that high school students may have access to a shot before the fall school year, while younger students at a lower age are likely to have to wait until the first term of 2022.

– OilGasJobz’s Will Feuer contributed to this report.

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