Guest Post by Heather Feigin, LCSW.
Populations all over the world have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all well aware of the toll that it has taken on essential workers, the newly unemployed, teachers and families.
The population that has been suffering in silence, however, are our children.
As a parent of six children ages 6 to 16, and a therapist serving Passaic and surrounding counties, I have witnessed firsthand the devastation that homeschooling is causing our children.
In the span of a week’s time, our children went from having the structure, routine and stability of school to being thrust into a world of “quarantining,” “social distancing,” “homeschooling” and “Zooming.” Parents were put to the task of “loosening” the internet blocks they so carefully constructed so that their children could have access to essential online learning tools. Let’s be honest. With each child requiring their own device, access to, at best, inappropriate content and at worst, pornography, became rampant.
Time spent on electronic devices has skyrocketed while physical activity and in-person socialization became almost nonexistent. Many harried parents who have to balance working full time with homeschooling are at the end of their rope or have given up completely. They are simply not available to effectively homeschool their children and/or monitor and moderate their children’s internet activities.
Children spend their days “attending” Zoom classes, muted and off camera, while they whittle away the time chatting with friends, surfing the internet, playing games or watching YouTube. Despite the heroic efforts of our teachers and rabbeim, our children are being taught a fraction of what they were taught in the classroom, and even less is being absorbed. Additionally, students aren’t being provided with effective preparation for the Regents exams, AP exams or the SAT. If this continues, students will fall further behind and it will be more difficult for them to catch up.
Students who were not “school kids” to begin with, are suffering exponentially. If paying attention was hard in a classroom, it became almost impossible on an online platform. In addition, for the kids who looked forward to school for the socialization and extra curriculars, homeschooling is misery. For these kids, opportunities to excel and build esteem has been all but eliminated, causing significant decreases in motivation and significant increases in depression.
Pathologies and behavioral issues that were being monitored and controlled by school special services, are now germinating and expanding in the absence of those hands-on programs and support.
The longer homeschooling persists, the more milestones are being conducted over Zoom. While our Hanhalah has done, and continues to do, an exemplary job of making our children feel special, nothing can replace the beautiful and meaningful programs our yeshivot provide to demonstrate to our students the significance and importance of milestones such as receiving their siddurim, chumashim, beginning to learn gemara and bar and bat mitzvah celebrations. What these children are missing out on simply cannot be replaced.
Children who come from homes with marital discourse are also suffering tremendously. Marriages not thriving to begin with are now being stretched even further by the pressures of having to work and homeschool. Children now quarantined at home are at the mercy of every fight and argument because there is nowhere to go to escape. Sibling rivalry has increased as well because kids have no social outlets or changes of scenery.
Teens have a lot less class time and a lot more free time with nothing to do. “At-risk kids,” who were on the brink before, are now finding ample aimless hours to get involved in all sorts of trouble including, but certainly not limited to, drugs, alcohol and pornograpy. The longer homeschooling continues, the more time these kids have to develop and cultivate bad habits that can cause lasting damage and take years to undo.
Post bar-and bat-mitzvah teens have an additional set of challenges. Being a frum teen is hard enough. Without the infrastructure, support and routine the yeshiva community provides, our sons and daughters are floundering. Their connection to Torah, still fragile and in need of nurturing and strengthening, has declined, as has their mitzvah observance.
Homeschooling for the 2020-2021 school year as a response to COVID-19 is simply not a viable or sustainable option for our youth. Again, I implore our leaders to very carefully weigh, measure and weigh again the risks and the benefits to our children, and make every effort to ensure that school opens in its full capacity, come September 2020.
Heather Feigin LCSW is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Passaic, NJ. For appointments call 973-348-5279. Got a question for Heather? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.