Updated: Jan 4
by Teresa D. Goins
This is Part 3 of a four-part article on the types of regression that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, child development experts are witnessing in young people. Regression is a child’s retreating from an aptitude or ability that he or she has mastered in the past. Thus far, we have discussed: Developmental/Behavioral Regression (October) and Academic Regression (November); and we will discuss Social Skills Regression this month. We will (1) review some statistics that reveal how the pandemic is affecting the social and mental health of children and (2) provide some tips that, during this unusual holiday season, may help. Even (and especially) in this pandemic, God is still a loving God; and it is our responsibility, as people of the faith, to be always on our knees in prayer for our precious children.
Social Regression. In a November “Health News Florida” article by Lesley McClurg, we learn that the COVID-19 pandemic is “tak[ing its] toll” on our children’s social and mental health. Because of lockdowns, teenagers cannot meet friends at the local theater or the school sports arena. Without a mask and keen parental supervision, young children cannot enjoy the playground with other kids their age. And virtual school has stolen from all children the privilege of daily talking to, touching, and interacting with classmates. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even prior to the pandemic, mental health issues were increasing in children ages six to 17; and further research shows that “social isolation can make these symptoms worse.”
A national U.S. survey of 3,300 high school students held late last spring reported that one-third had been “unhappy and depressed ‘much more than usual’ in the past month;” and over 50 percent expressed fears for the future. Assessing the effects of mandatory shutdowns, 1,143 parents in Italy and Spain reported social deviations in their children, such as “difficulty concentrating and spending more time online and asleep.” Child development experts are worried about these trends. Our young people are enduring social isolation from peers and their usual activities, causing them to be disheartened and sad.
Saun-Toy Trotter, school-based psychotherapist at the University of California San Francisco’s Benioff Children’s Hospital, is seeing a “high level of anxiety … and depression” in young patients, reporting “more youth suicide attempts in the first four weeks of the pandemic than it did in the entire previous year.” Of her patients, she states, “They’re giving up hope. There’s nowhere to go. There’s nothing to do. There’s nothing to connect with. There’s just deflated-ness.” Her advice is that parents set routines, listen to their children’s concerns, and validate them. “Check in often” to assure your kids are emotionally healthy, and if not, call a professional for help. Trotter also urges parents themselves to “Rest. Reset. Restore.” We are our children’s lifeline, so our own mental health is imperative.
In this pandemic, it may feel that things are as bad as they have ever been. What is the answer? As Christians, we know there is always hope in God. Parents (and grandparents) must keep the faith and continue to believe in the healing hand of God. With the Christmas season approaching, remind your children that all is not lost – that Jesus is still the reason for this season, no matter how different it is from Christmases past. Make a homemade advent calendar and ask your children each December day for one thing they are thankful for. In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Amy Schwabe suggests packing up your kids in the car for a socially-distanced road trip to admire the outdoor Christmas lights. Go caroling in your neighborhood, just your family unit, leaving a handmade card on each doorstep. Set up a “Christmas Countdown” around the doorframes of your kids’ bedrooms, where they will receive daily a loving note from you. And don’t forget to give! Make thank-you cards for COVID-19 essential workers like your grocery tellers and the medical staff at your local hospital. Give virtually to the United Way’s Holiday Giving Tree or the Toys for Tots via Amazon’s Wish List. Why? Because giving is “healing.”
Schwabe says, “The … pandemic has canceled many things. But don’t give it the power to cancel the holidays!” We are all frightened; we are disoriented; we are forlorn; but we can’t give up! Remind your children that the manger babe came to save, and He is our hope for tomorrow. Continue to pray and look toward heaven, for “[our] help comes from the Lord” (Psalm 121:2).
In our final Part 4 segment next month, we will present an informal case study on an actual 14-year old who, for the benefit of ABNewsKy readers, has agreed to have her 2020 experience with virtual school posted.