COVID-19 by and large spares children and teens from illness, but they’ve suffered a year of unprecedented collateral damage as the pandemic has dragged on.
NBC senior national correspondent Kate Snow would know.
Over the past 12 months, she has cared for her husband through his battle with COVID-19 and helped her kids navigate 24/7 home-time, Zoom school, socially distanced social lives and the mental health gauntlet of the pandemic.
Snow and her team collaborated with Stanford University to finally put some figures on how the pandemic is affecting kids.
‘I’d like to tell you [that the results] are all shocking and surprising, but as a mother of a 12th grader and a 9th grader, a lot of the things in the study are things I’m living right now,’ she told DailyMail.com.
‘This is a tough, tough time to be a high school student.’
NBC and Stanford conducted the ‘Kids Under Pressure’ study as part of their Challenge Success non-profit work.
The survey found that 56 percent of US high school students are more stressed about school work than they were prior to the pandemic, half say they have too much homework, and the share of kids stressed over their mental health has risen 23 percent.
‘[Kids are] struggling, too, with a lack of engagement…they don’t care as much as they used to care and are feeling more lost because they don’t have much one-on-one time with teachers,’ Snow said.
Kids across the US are feeling overworked by and under-engaged with their coursework after nearly a year of ‘Zoom school,’ and Hibah Ansari (right) told NBC senior national correspondent Kate Snow (left) learning has become ‘computer time on computer time’
Nearly 57% of US teens said they are more stressed about school since the pandemic began (light blue), and nearly 60% said they are more worried about college, the Stanford and NBC study found
‘It’s easy to feel like giving up because [the challenge of Zoom school and the pandemic] has become so much that it’s easier to do.’
Snow and her team also followed a group of high school students over the course of the school year, capturing their successes and their struggles.
One of them, Hibah Ansari, a high school senior told Snow that she spends some 10 hours on screens for classes and homework.
‘It’s just computer time on computer time,’ she said, and added that her motivation to do well in school has been eroded as the burden of homework has gotten heavier and school has become fully virtual.
And of course Snow has had a front row seat to her own children’s adjustment to virtual learning.
Watching them, Snow had ‘some sense of the weight of the problem’ but says the study findings ‘verify and capture what is really going on.’
What’s going on is that more than 56 million students went from spending the majority of their days at school with their peers and teachers suddenly became fully virtual learners in the spring.
And since then, the question of how to educate American kids in the throes of a pandemic has become a deeply divisive political issue.
CDC left it largely to schools to figure out for themselves when and how to reopen, former President Trump barred the health agency’s then-director from testifying before Congress, and months later, mixed messages still abound among members of the same Biden Covid Response team.
Biden said he wanted to reopen the majority of schools within his first 100 days in office, but critics claim he is dragging his heels on this goal for fear of crossing teachers unions.
Parents are furious with teachers whose protests over reopening schools are keeping kids from getting back to in-person classes.
Teachers are furious with the feds for at once telling them it’s safe to go back to teaching without COVID-19 vaccinations and that they should be prioritized for shots.
And conspicuously missing from the many-sided, public row are the concerns of the people at the heart of the issue: kids.
The NBC and Stanford study aimed to capture how school students are really coping with ‘Zoom school.’
Snow said that she was unsurprised that NBC and Stanford University’s poll of 75,000 students found most were more stressed since the pandemic began, and said her kids are ‘happier and lighter’ when they have half-days of in-person class
Nearly 70% of students said that grades, tests, finals and other school assessments are the biggest source of their stress, and more than 30% are concerned over their own mental health amid the pandemic and ‘Zoom school’
Nearly half (46.7 percent) of the 75,000 students surveyed said they felt more pressure to excel in school since the pandemic began.
More than 56 percent said their school-related stress had increased and nearly 60 percent said they’d become more worried about college since 2020 went haywire.
The only metric that remained the same for most kids (57 percent) was the stress over meeting their parents’ or guardians’ expectations – though more than a third said that stress had increased as well.
More than half of students said they never get one-on-one time with teachers and school staff, and 41% said that no one checks in on how they are doing (dark blue)
For nearly 70 percent of high schoolers, grades, tests, quizzes finals and other assessments were the primary stressors.
More than 60 percent of high school students said the overall workload and homework strain were stressors for them.
And more than 30 percent of teenagers said that they were stressed about their mental health, time management, lack of time to play and be with friends and being under-slept.
More than half of the kids surveyed also said they felt like the workload had increased, especially their homework.
And yet remote learning has made it harder for these teens to feel engaged and like they have real connections with their teachers.
‘Fifty percent say the strength of relationships with teachers has decreased and teachers are under stress and don’t have enough time in their day to teach on screens and try to help students after class,’ Snow says.
Students spend all day in class ‘on screens and then they have homework on more screens,’ Snow added.
‘Any adult can imagine – Zoom call after Zoom call – now imagine that’s how classes are, that’s how you’re getting your instruction, it just feels different than being in person.
‘They can’t raise their hand easily and it’s hard a lot of times to have to go back and teach yourself or find a way to go to office hours…it’s easier to fall behind than it used to be.’
Filling in those learning gaps has proved challenging to do in virtual school, but schools that are back to in-person learning are findings creative ways to try to alleviate some stress for their students.
Snow visited an Austin, Texas, school, where about half of students are back in school in person, full-time. Aware of the mounting pressures and time commitments students felt, the school started dropping one class period a day each day, so that instead of having the usual class, students have a period to start homework, go to office hours, or study for a test. The students credit the program with giving them more time and alleviating stress.
Stress and symptoms of mental health concerns don’t necessarily manifest the same way in children and adolescents as they do in adults – and parents are learning that in real time now that they’re home with their kids who are also in class.
‘When you look at the numbers on effort in school, effort in school has fallen and you hear that a lot of students are giving up and have dropped their effort, that’s. result of stress for kids who were straight A students and now are not,’ Snow says.
Half of students said the time they spend on school work has increased since the pandemic began, but more than 40% felt their effort and engagement levels had fallen off
Two to three hours of homework was the most common load for high school students, but nearly four percent had seven hours a night
‘They feel stress and that’s how exhibiting, so instead of watching the Zoom class, they have another screen open playing games.’
That might appeal to some teenagers, but both psychologists and observation suggest that kids aren’t actually happier that way, and in fact may miss out on crucial aspects of social development.
‘Most kids prefer being around their peers and miss school, they miss the social aspect and the teacher interactions,’ Snow says.
The NBC/Stanford poll also found that parents are often underestimating the stress their kids are under – and even how parents’ stress bleeds over into the lives and outlooks of children.
While 46 percent of parents said they thought their kids’ stress levels had increased, 56 percent of kids felt more stressed.
‘Not all parents are understanding what their kids are going through. One thing I’m guilty of myself, when we are stressed, as parents, and our kids are in the house with us, it increases their stress, they feed off us,’ Snow said.
‘I’m trying to take some deep breaths before I react and try to not exhibit as much stress.’
About half of students said they felt less connected to both peers and teachers since the pandemic began, but most still feel as though they belong in their schools
She says it’s important for parents to check in with their kids, ask them directly how they are feeling, because it may not be obvious, and teenagers may not reveal that they’re struggling without an invitation to do so.
Even with families spending so much time together during the pandemic, Snow says taking the time to bond and disconnect from screens is important.
But it’s not a replacement for ‘peer-to-peer interactions,’ which they ‘really do need developmentally,’ she says.
‘This has hit in their teen years right when there are all these things that are happening, when they are pulling away from parents and spending time with friends.’
She and her kids have had to get creative about ways for the teens to spend time with friends safely, such as outdoor, socially distance hangouts with masks, or even watching movies ‘together’ online.
Parents like Snow and teachers are doing their best, but nothing quite replaces the full in-person experience of school, and kids could be seeing the consequences for years to come.
‘I personally would love for my kids to be back in school in school as soon as my district says it’s safe enough, but I know not every parent in my district [in New York] feels that way.
‘In the balance of benefits and costs, there is such a huge benefit [for kids to be in school] that I personally would favor it.’
For the time being, Snow’s children are among the millions in a hybrid model. They go to in-person class for half the day, and spend half of it doing virtual learning.
‘I can see a difference in my kids when they go for that half day and come home from the school buildings, they are lighter and happier.’