Students worry about illness, parents fret about academics

Teens are texting and making phone calls to friends; parents want more action on access
By: | April 13, 2020
A parent and her children work on online learning assignments during coronavirus school closures in Hamilton County, Tennessee.A parent and her children work on online learning assignments during coronavirus school closures in Hamilton County, Tennessee.

Teens are suffering anxiety about family members falling ill with coronavirus and worry they’ll lose touch with friends, while parents are concerned their children will fall behind in school, according to a pair of new surveys.

Some 61% of teens fear someone in their family will be exposed to COVID-19 and 63% worry about the effect it will have on their family’s ability to earn money, according to a new poll by Common Sense Media and SurveyMonkey.

The poll found that Hispanic/Latino teenagers were most worried about the financial impacts on their family’s ability to make a living.

And while teens reported keeping in touch with friends, not all of them are connecting as readily with teachers.

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Most teens are texting each other, with phone calls, social media and video calls ranking as other popular means of contact. However, almost a quarter of teens say they’re connecting with teachers less than once a week, and 41% haven’t attended an online class.

“Though most teens are keeping in touch with friends and teachers using technology, more than four in 10 say they feel more lonely and less connected than usual—a concerning indicator for parents and teachers to monitor as the situation continues to unfold,” Jon Cohen, chief research officer at SurveyMonkey, said in a news release.

As for schoolwork,  slightly more than half of the teens surveyed say they’re worried about keeping up, with black and Hispanic/Latino students reporting a significantly higher level of concern than are their white classmates.

“The nation is confronting a huge equity challenge and it’s more critical than ever that students have access to technology for learning and safety no matter where they live,” Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense, said in a news release. “That’s why Common Sense is calling on Congress to connect all students by providing emergency funds to close the digital divide once and for all. Let’s not leave any student behind during this already difficult time.”

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Parents praise schools, but see equity gaps

In another survey, parents in New York and California said they were more concerned about their children falling behind academically than they were about financial and other impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Those fears were more pronounced among black families and families from low-income backgrounds, the Ed Trust survey found.

While parents lauded their schools’ response to nationwide shutdowns, they also identified significant gaps in access to resources among different racial groups and income brackets, according to the survey.

More than eight in 10 public school parents reported higher levels of stress than usual, with 40% describing their level of stress as much higher than usual.

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The survey also identified several pressing issues around distance learning, including:

  • Not enough devices in the home.
  • Lack of reliable, high-speed internet.
  • Support for non-native English speakers and English learners.
  • Supporting parents of children with disabilities.
  • Access to meals.
  • Advance planning.

“Communicating effectively with parents when schools close is no easy task, and teachers, principals, and district administrators deserve a lot of credit,” said Elisha Smith Arrillaga, executive director of The Education Trust-West. “But this is a time to accelerate our work. The poll results show that parents want consistent contact with their children’s teachers and are still lacking equitable access to academic resources.”

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