The COVID-19 pandemic has been going for about seven months now, and American schools are reopening for a new school year. Since the coronavirus hit America, everyone went into a state of quarantine. People were isolated from each other, which had significant mental impacts; stress and anxiety were increased. Restrictions were attempted to be lifted in some places, but cases only continued to rise. Quarantining is not beneficial for kids mentally or physically. They need to learn how to be social and interact with other people, which is a key aspect of life. Quarantine has gone on for too long, and the coronavirus is not expected to slow down until a vaccine is found.
As American schools reopen in the fall during the coronavirus pandemic, they should strongly consider the mental health of children, as kids will excessively use social media and become less physically active at home. Although safety is important too, COVID-19 is only expected to stop with a vaccine, so schools should try implementing in-person learning as much as possible.
Increased Screen Time
If American schools do not reopen and allow kids back in at least partially, then kids would have to do all their learning through a screen. Screen time has already increased because of quarantine, and schools having students do all their work through computers does not help. Isolation takes away social opportunities from kids, and they use social media to make up for it. However, social media can be dangerous and create significant psychological effects, such as addiction and depression. Cyberbullying is also an online issue, which can create low self-esteem. Screen time takes time away from beneficial activities such as socializing with others and physical activity, which are already minimized because of quarantine. Overall, the increased screen time would have negative mental effects, which is why schools should consider a careful, in-person reopening.
The Physical Aspect
Because screen time replaces physical activity, kids tend to feel less productive and worse about themselves. Not only is this unhealthy, but it has a significant mental impact too. Exercise reduces negative mental effects such as anxiety, depression, and negative mood. It also reduces stress for many and improves self-esteem. Physical activity can increase energy and stamina, which directly correlate to productivity. Due to many sports being cancelled throughout the spring and summer, students lost a lot of opportunities to stay physically fit. Schools should try to open back up at least partially for students, possibly in two different cohorts with one coming in at a time. Walking around and socializing in school is much better for mental health than sitting in one place for hours at home, staring at a screen for several hours each day.
Back To School
If safety is the main concern of schools, then complete remote learning would be best. Teachers may prefer remote learning because of the limitations of being in school, as it would be more work for them to be in school while wearing a mask and practicing social distancing rules. Additionally, education would be hard to balance with constant sanitation. Remote learning has many available online resources, so education would not necessarily be any less than what it was before. It would also be better in the long-term, as it is safer for students and helpful for keeping the virus in control. However, this remote stage has been going on for months, and nobody knows when the virus will start to decline. Many think it will only decline with a vaccine, but there is not much hope for one in the near future. Even with safety being a concern, it should go beyond the physical sphere and into the mental sphere. Students should be eased into the new school year after being isolated for months. Emotionally, the sudden pressure of school after months of a relaxed situation may be a lot for them to handle. It would be better for students’ mental health to see some of their classmates and interact with their teachers in-person as soon as it is possible to do so.
Prolonged isolation is not mentally beneficial for students, who need to be socially active. Schools should reopen when it is safe enough so that their students get back to being in a normal state of mind by interacting with others regularly. Quarantine reduced the mental health of many students, who could have suffered from anxiety, depression, and stress from increased screen time and less physical activity.
Some areas of the country have more cases than others, so opening school buildings may not be an option because of the risk of an outbreak. These areas should enforce restrictions on their communities and wait until the number of cases goes down before they reopen their school buildings. Only if the number of cases is low enough, schools should reopen their buildings partially to their students while practicing social distancing and wearing masks. For example, the students could be split into two cohorts based on where their last name lands in the alphabet, and they could go into the school building on alternating weeks. It would be safer than sending all the students back, which could cause an outbreak of the virus.
Parents should prioritize their children’s mental health and help them feel comfortable in these new circumstances. They should talk to their kids and calm them down so they can make the best of their specific situation. A new school year can stress out students on its own, and this stress is now accelerated with a pandemic. Coping with stress is extremely important and can be very helpful to many students. Methods for calming down include meditation, stretching out, and deep breathing. Exercise and sleep are also important factors, and everyone should make sure they get enough of both every day to keep themselves physically and mentally well.