UBC Okanagan professor says it's too early to tell how children will be impacted by the pandemic in the long term

Impact of pandemic on kids

Victoria Femia

A UBC Okanagan professor says children may be impacted by the pandemic over the long term, but it's too early to tell what those impacts may be.

“When it comes to just the global, mental health impact of the pandemic on children there definitely is research to show that mental health did deteriorate for not all children, but for some children,” said Susan Holtzman, Associate Professor of Psychology at UBCO.

“For some it got better actually, so it’s not even a globally negative thing. The extra time at home was beneficial for some children, but we don’t really know the long-term effects.”

Children are resilient, says Holtzman, and she believes their “path moving forward is not cemented."

However, she says, children who suffer from physical or cognitive disabilities are most at risk of being impacted by the pandemic later on in their lives.

“Even though this affected everybody, there’s still this group of people, and adults too, those that remain medically vulnerable to the virus are in a different position moving forward than those who are not,” said Holtzman.

“And same for children with physical vulnerabilities and so I think more than ever, educators and parents will have to be paying special attention to those children who may have been more negatively impacted.”

She says, however, this virus may have given more awareness to people, including children, who struggle with mental health challenges and isolation.

With virtual ways of communication becoming popular over the course of the last two years, Holtzman says now may be a good time to reevaluate screen-time habits that children may have developed during the pandemic.

“I think having a collaborative conversation with children, as young as possible, just talk about it and make sure limits are made clear,” said Holtzman.

She explained parents generally have less of an emphasis on how much time is spent on screens, but rather the emphasis is more on what children are doing on screens, who are you doing it with and what it is replacing.

Becca Yu, a B.C. registered pediatric speech and language pathologist (SLP), says while there have been anecdotal claims that masks have negatively impacted children’s development, there is no scientific backup.

“We as a world, planet Earth, and as humans — we haven't done this before. And so, this long-term wearing of masks throughout many different seasons and the ongoing pandemic — we don't really know what the long-term consequences are,” says Yu, who is also a member of Speech and Hearing BC.

Yu notes that children in Kindergarten through Grade 3 are still developing key communication skills, despite already having a lot of language skills in place.

-With files from Graeme Wood, Glacier Media

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