How online learning affects parents’ mental health

Study finds heightened levels of mental distress among parents across all socioeconomic categories
By: | December 16, 2020
Parents whose children struggle with distance learning are more likely to experience depression, have trouble sleeping or to have little interest or pleasure in doing things. (GettyImages/Phynart Studio)Parents whose children struggle with distance learning are more likely to experience depression, have trouble sleeping or to have little interest or pleasure in doing things. (GettyImages/Phynart Studio)

Parents became proxy educators when COVID forced their children to shift to online learning and many of these adults are experiencing more intense anxiety, new research hows.

More than half of all parents surveyed in March and April said they experienced “significantly higher levels of stress” due to a child’s struggle with distance learning, according to the American Educational Research Association’s “Distance Learning and Parental Mental Health During COVID-19” report.

As a result, these parents were more likely to experience depression, have trouble sleeping, or to have little interest or pleasure in doing things.

The study found that heightened levels of mental distress were felt by parents across all socioeconomic categories, regardless of family income or the number of days that had passed since school closure, the authors said.

“Students’ academic success ultimately relies on their parents’ emotional health during this fragile time, which sets the learning environment for their children,” said co-author Alberto Ortega, an assistant professor at Indiana University Bloomington. “Without proper support, both parents and students will likely suffer.”


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For example, 81% of parents whose child struggled online reported feeling depressed, compared to 59% of parents whose children did not struggle.

“Since students will likely rely on some form of distance learning for the foreseeable future, parents could face longer periods of elevated stress and mental health disruptions. Addressing parents’ emotional needs during the pandemic has become essential for students’ success.”Ortega said.

The authors are not urging schools to reopen simply to reduce stress on parents. However, school leaders and teachers should work to build stronger relationships with parents as the pandemic continues.

Educators can conduct ongoing check-ins to monitor how families are coping and to determine whether additional academic or social-emotional resources are needed.

Schools, for example, can offer virtual mental health services to parents.

“This level of support “enables parents to reinforce the efforts of teachers, many of whom are stretched thin and may be experiencing burnout,” Ortega said.

“And it is crucial for parents to be open about their needs and to communicate with their schools when they need additional help,” he concluded.


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