Examining Why Many Kids are Indifferent About Returning to School After COVID
After a year away from traditional school classes because of COVID, you would think students would be racing to transition from online to traditional school — but interestingly, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, many young people I talk to have voiced uncertainty and indifference, and some are against the idea altogether. The COVID pandemic has prompted many changes to the way we live, and this includes how students experience school and related mental health concerns. And while it was predictable that students would experience distress and confusion when they transitioned from traditional to online schooling, witnessing students displaying apathy about going back to “normal” has been unexpected surprise.
Psychological reasons students are concerned going back to school
There are a number of reasons students have shared with me why they are leery about going back to traditional classes, including the following mental health concerns:
- Normal school won’t be so “normal.” One common concern I hear from students is that while they will be spending more time in traditional school, the experience will be anything but normal. Masks, social distancing, and plexiglass dividers create a foreign environment for students, one that is far different from how things were before the pandemic.
- Increased worries relating to COVID exposure. While some kids have carried on normally with their lives throughout the pandemic, others have been more isolated and now have growing fears about increased risk for COVID exposure going back to traditional school. Even with safety protocols in place, some students fear being inside with greater student density will leave them vulnerable to contracting COVID, or at minimum will be repeatedly forced to quarantine depending on who they may have been around that was COVID positive.
- They have become used to online education. Even though online education was new to many students at the outset of the pandemic, this type of educational experience has now become the norm for students nationwide — and some have learned that they actually prefer online compared to traditional school.
- Loss of autonomy and flexibility. One unintended consequence of being forced to transition students from traditional to online school has been the increase in time management control. Specifically, students have cited how much they enjoy the freedom of being able to complete asynchronous assignments on their time, and how much more control they have had over their schedules. Traditional school, from their view, is more structured and less flexible compared to the comforts of remote learning.
- Worries about eventually going back to online. Another big concern I have heard centers around the potential of having to quickly revert back to online school as COVID breakouts and quarantine requirements occur. Some students have questioned why go back now when we are so close to the end of the school year?
How you can help
If your son or daughter is struggling with the idea of going back to traditional school, consider the following ideas to help ease stress and improve mental health:
- Provide factual updates. These days there is so much misinformation out there it is sometimes difficult to discern fact from fiction. As a parent it is important to seek valid news from reputable sources, and share what you find in terms that your child can understand.
- Listen and validate concerns. While you might not always have the answers to the questions your child asks, you can actively listen and display sincerity about their unique experience. Allowing kids to get things off their chest can be very therapeutic, and in some cases all that is needed in order to feel more confident heading back to class.
- Assist in the transition. Rather than simply sending your child back to school, take time out to jointly discuss new protocols relating to school safety and education delivery. Work together to discuss changes, and offer reassurance whenever possible.
- Seek professional help. Some mental health challenges may be more than what parents can take care by themselves, making professional mental health support an option to consider. Remember, your child does not have to be suffering from mental illness in order to take advantage of counseling, and many great mental health clinicians are out there ready to help.
As we navigate through the pandemic and head toward normalcy, it is important that we don’t take for granted that kids have all of this under control. While some kids are excited to get back to class, others have reservations and are unsure going back at this time makes sense. Take time out with your kids to gauge their unique views and concerns, and consider professional assistance for issues that warrant care beyond what you may be able to provide at home.