Virtual learning is doing more harm than good to our children

Lauren Heller, Reporter

Thinking back to life before the pandemic, it’s hard to believe that we would end up here or how much it has impacted our lives in all aspects. Seriously, who would have expected all this?

While all the furloughs, cancellations and closures are tragic in the adult world, I believe one essential population has been left in the dark: children.

At the National Men’s March in 1997, Nelson Mandela said, “our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future. Those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation.”

American children have been out of school since March. This means that they have been physically away from their friends and teachers for seven months.

While virtual learning has been a sufficient supplement for in-person learning, it should not even attempt to replace the classroom experience.

I feel that young children need to be in school, even if it means they have to wear masks and try to distance themselves inside the classroom.

While technology has many advantages, I would hate for the early exposure to hinder a child’s abilities to build relationships and grow during this vulnerable time.

Mother Nicole Frangos from Lodi, California said in an email interview that she has some concerns about the effects of online school on her son.

“I am VERY concerned about his overall development and how this will affect him long term! I am concerned about his social-emotional development. I am concerned about his relationships with his peers. Secondary to all of this is the impact on his academic development,” Frangos said.

Even before children enter middle school, they go through massive social and physical changes while at school.

The CDC’s research on child development explains that at the age of three, kids should begin to copy adults and other kids, separate from their parents, show concern for others’ emotions, and display many more social, emotional, communicational and cognitive skills.

The Social Science LibreTexts describes “secondary socialization,” meaning children learn appropriate behaviors through their peers outside of the home.

This is also where they learn how to act, especially since school requires different manners than the home environment usually entails.

Parents play key roles in teaching their children some of these skills, but the educated and certified teachers in preschools really embed these lessons into children’s malleable minds.

During the pandemic, I am worried that some of these lessons aren’t being taught efficiently to young children because parents might not all be educated enough, nor have the patience, to help teach their children.

This goes especially for young parents in low-income communities who may not have the ability to work from home.

If low-income parents can’t afford to take the time off work necessary to be there for their young children, while upper class parents may have the luxury of working from home and supporting their child’s education, the gap between the haves and the have-nots only widens.

“The balance between the cost of childcare and bringing home a paycheck is a big decision,” said Kathryn Dean, Preschool and Infant Center director of Cal Lutheran’s Fredrickson Family Early Childhood Center.

We also cannot forget about those kids and families who rely on school for their meals.

Parents are now paying extra to feed their children when they might have been fed for free while at school.

“Among low-income households with children who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, only about 15% have been getting those meals,” Lauren Bauer, a researcher at Brookings Institution, said in an NPR article.

This adds to the burden of the parents and limits the child’s opportunity to learn and focus.

Of course, times are changing as kids are exposed more to technology at early ages. However, it makes me wonder if this is a positive transition.

“My [five year old] child isn’t getting anything out of distance learning. He is not learning and this is not setting him up for academic success […] He needs to be in a classroom to develop appropriate social emotional skills and early peer relationships,” Frangos said.

An article from found that “blue light that’s emitted from these screens can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, increase alertness, and reset the body’s internal clock (or circadian rhythm) to a later schedule.”

Sleep deprivation, caused by the blue light emission, might be worse for younger kids than it is for teens as their brain and bones are still growing. Also, their lack of sleep might carry over into their moods and ability to socialize with their peers.

Therefore, it is so important that we encourage families to limit their child’s amount of screen time during this period of online learning and vulnerable growth.

As we are all worried about what might happen in the future, I strongly believe that it is our responsibility to make our future the best we can and set the younger generations up for success.

To go back to Nelson Mandela’s quote, we cannot expect to have hope for the future when we are not raising our children in the classroom to learn about the ups and downs in our history or the potential of the American dream.