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What are the top concerns of parents as kids return to school?

The pivotal role that social media and digital devices play in children’s lives is the biggest concern among parents as kids return to school, according to a national survey.

Data from the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health reveals that emotional well-being and tech consumption have taken precedence in this year’s list of health apprehensions for children. These topics are now of greater concern than childhood obesity, which was a paramount worry ten years ago.

“Parents still view problems directly impacting physical health, including unhealthy eating and obesity, as important children’s health issues. But these have been overtaken by concerns about mental health, social media and screen time,” said Mott Poll co-director Dr. Susan Woolford.

Screen time and social media

The data reveals that two-thirds of parents are uneasy about their children’s escalating dependence on digital devices, especially the time spent on social platforms, placing these concerns at the top of this year’s health worries.

“Children are using digital devices and social media at younger ages, and parents may struggle with how to appropriately monitor use to prevent negative impacts on safety, self-esteem, social connections and habits that may interfere with sleep and other areas of health,” explained Dr. Woolford.

Given the increase of screen time during the pandemic, Dr. Woolford recommends parents to vigilantly assess and possibly limit their child’s tech usage upon observing signs of unhealthy interactions or behaviors. She emphasizes that certain device settings can be instrumental in safeguarding kids.

Mental and emotional health

The poll, which analyzed 2,099 responses from February, underlines a prevalent concern among parents regarding their children’s mental health, encompassing topics like depression, stress, bullying, and even suicide.

Nearly half of parents expressed concern about a lack of access to mental health services.

“The mismatch between the growing number of youth with mental health concerns and the limited access to mental health services has serious implications for children’s well-being,” said Dr. Woolford.

School violence 

Parents also shared a high level of concern about school violence, which Dr. Woolford says may reflect direct experience with school shootings or fights as well as media coverage about such events.

She adds that changes to the school environment, such as metal detectors, armed guards and locked doors, as well as active shooter drills may remind children and parents about the potential for school violence. 

“Parents may want to talk with their child periodically about how safe they feel at school and what they’ve heard about violent incidents,” said Dr. Woolford. “They should tailor the information to their child’s age and avoid sharing graphic details while offering reassurance about safety measures that their school has in place.”

Concerns vary based on household income

The study reveals a disparity in health concerns based on household income. Parents from low-income households expressed heightened fears encompassing a broader range of topics, from school violence to health risks from pollution. 

By contrast, parents in middle and high-income homes seem more worried about device and social media overuse.

“Differences in how parents view children’s health problems may reflect their day-to-day experiences dealing with environmental challenges such as unsafe neighborhoods, as well as discrimination that may be more frequently experienced by children from low-income homes,” Dr. Woolford said.

Other top concerns

Still yet, across economic brackets, parents uniformly flagged issues like unhealthy diet, surging healthcare costs, and the lack of mental health facilities.

Other top children’s health concerns revealed by the survey are obesity (48%), guns/gun injuries (47%), poverty (45%), drinking/using drugs (44%), child abuse/neglect (42%), unequal access to health care (35%), parental stress (35%), inaccurate/misleading health information (31%), teen pregnancy/sexual activity (31%), discrimination (31%), unsafe neighborhoods (30%), gay/gender issues (LGBTQ) (29%), and health risks from polluted water and air (23%).

At the bottom of the list of concerns are safety of vaccines (16%) and COVID (12%).

“Today’s school aged children have experienced dramatic shifts in classroom environments, technology norms and increased mental health challenges,” said Dr. Woolford.

“Parents should partner with schools, mentors and their child’s health care providers to address both ongoing and emerging health concerns. They should also regularly revisit conversations with their children and teens that encourage them to share any concerns they might be experiencing, both physically and emotionally.”


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