How a year of remote learning affected children’s development
- In her new book “The Stolen Year,” author Anya Kamenetz examines how remote learning during the pandemic has compounded the growing mental health crisis among children and teens.
- She also examines how this has exacerbated existing educational inequalities and undermined the academic achievement of children and adolescents.
- Kamenetz offers insight into the failings of the education system during the COVID-19 pandemic and explains how they could be avoided during a future crisis.
In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Association of Children’s Hospitals declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health, highlighting the stress caused by COVID-19 and racial injustice.
Additionally, in January 2022, the AAP stated that one of the most critical lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance of in-person school.
In its guidelines, it said “remote learning exacerbates existing educational inequities, harms educational attainment, and compounds the growing mental health crisis among children and adolescents.”
Author Anya Kamenetz delves into this topic in her book “The Stolen Year,” which examines the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s development.
She followed families across the United States as they lived through the first year of the pandemic while discussing the failures of the country’s education system, the collapse of its child care system and insufficient subsidies for families, as well as unpaid and underpaid work of women, and Suite.
Below, Kamenetz tells Healthline why she wrote the book and discusses some of the book’s highlights.
Healthline: Why did you write this book?
Kamenetz: As an education correspondent for NPR, I had a front row seat documenting the impact of the pandemic on children, so I tried to testify.
What do you hope people take away from it?
That we must be prepared for the impact of COVID on children for years to come: on child development, college attendance rates, levels of physical and mental illness, and more.
Do you think the harms of COVID-19 have been exaggerated?
No way. I am horrified that there are over a million dead and counting Americans.
Despite the severity of a new virus, should the United States have done more to protect children from the ramifications of public health policies?
Yes. We could and should have prioritized the needs of children for care, learning and social contact. At times most necessary to limit transmission, we could have closed indoor bars and restaurants while keeping schools and daycares open. We could have reallocated empty desks to make room for social distancing so that every child could go to school every day instead of hybrid learning. We could have requisitioned funds so that the children could learn and eat outside, weather permitting. Many other rich countries have done these things.
Do you think the school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic could have been avoided?
I think schools could have reopened from summer 2020 and onwards, with the exception of temporary closures during some surges which resulted in staffing shortages due to high community spread. My daughter’s small private Montessori school opened in July 2020 and never had a transmission so she didn’t miss a day of in-person learning.
Have our children’s pre-existing failures been exacerbated during the pandemic?
Yes. We have too many poor, poorly housed children who depend on schools for meals and security and who lack a computer, an internet connection and an adult to help them learn.
What is the connection between our inability to focus on the needs of children and racism, capitalism, toxic individualism, and meean-in style feminism?
We don’t have a welfare state for families in this country compared, again, to our peer countries, which have public health care, paid holidays, child benefits that prevent children from falling into poverty and subsidized child care.
The reasons are historical. Politicians have backed the wealthy and business interests who resist the taxation required for these programs. They railed against “welfare queens” using racist dog whistle language. And the prominent feminists, who one might expect to champion these social programs most strongly, have often advocated for their own career advancement instead.
How have children of color been particularly affected by the pandemic?
They have lost proportionately more loved ones to COVID. Their families lost proportionally more jobs. They tended to attend a distant school longer. In some cases, their test scores dropped further. For some groups, their mental health outcomes are worse.
Many mental health professionals believe children will feel the ramifications of the pandemic for years to come. Do you agree?
Some of our children will be very resilient. Some might even experience growth, becoming more compassionate or flexible. Others have gone through toxic stress and harmful childhood experiences that will scar their bodies and minds. They will need help to heal and reach their full potential.
Do you think the United States will be better prepared to protect children if we were to face another pandemic?
We have not put in place any of the structures that I mentioned. But leaders are now talking more about the importance of the in-person school and all the services it offers. Hindsight is 20/20.
What can our leaders do to ensure that we are better prepared to protect children in the future and what can we do as individuals?
Leaders can develop the plans and expertise needed for the next crisis. They can keep family policies on the agenda and try to get them passed. As individuals we can stand up for all of this and as parents and community members we need to keep equity and the needs of all children in mind.