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5.C: COVID-19 Impact on Middle/Late Childhood

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    Parental Deaths:

    As of February 2021, 37,300 American children (0–17 years) lost at least one parent to COVID-19 (Kidman et al., 2021). Further, the number of affected children is estimated to be even higher at 43,027 if deaths linked to the pandemic, although not a direct result of COVID-19, are included. This is a 20% increase in the number of children who typically lose a parent each year. Black children were disproportionately affected as 20% of children who lost a parent to COVID-19 were Black, even though they only make up 14% of the U.S. population. This number will continue to grow, and the grief experienced by these children will affect many aspects of their life. Kidman et al. stressed the negative outcomes for children who have lost a parent including, traumatic grief, poor educational results, mental health issues, suicide, and unintentional deaths. The sudden nature of the pandemic has also left families unprepared, which increases the negative outcomes. When added to the social isolation, lack of in-person schooling, and economic losses suffered during COVID-19, children who have lost a parent will require significant support as they navigate their grief. This support will most likely fall to the schools, which will already be dealing with the academic challenges and emotional needs of all their students.


    Around the world, during the height of the pandemic, almost 90% of the student population was cut off from school (Winter & Byrne, 2020). COVID-19 has further exposed the digital divide. According to a Pew Research survey (Vogels et al., 2020) many low-income parents were concerned about the impact remote learning was going to have for their children who have limited access to computers and the internet. This was also a concern for many rural and urban families. In addition to access, the Pew Survey also revealed that many lower-income families were concerned about keeping that access, as the cost of high-speed internet or their cell phone bill might prove prohibitive. See Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) for survey results.

    Graph from Pew Research Center showing that among parents whose child's school is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 29% of those children have to do their schoolwork on a cellphone; of this category, 10% are upper income, 24% are middle income, and 43% are lower income; 33% are rural, 22% are suburban, and 36% are urban. 22% of the parents whose child's school is closed had children who needed to use public WiFi for their schoolwork because there was not a reliable Internet connection at home. Of this group of children, 6% are upper income, 13% are middle income, and 40% are lower income; 31% are rural, 14% are suburban, and 30% are urban. Of the parents whose child's school is closed, 21% had children unable to complete schoolwork because they had no access to a computer at home. Of this group, 4% are upper income, 14% are middle income, and 36% are lower income; 24% are rural, 12% are suburban, and 33% are urban.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\).

    Parents are right to be concerned. Research on online learning shows that it can be effective only if students have access to the resources that they need, and if their teachers are trained in online instruction (Garcia & Weiss, 2020). The pandemic did not allow for the planning to ensure that the criteria needed for effective remote delivery was available for all students. As a result, the children who struggled even under normal circumstances have found it the most difficult to learn during the pandemic.

    Schools also serve an important function for low-income students whose families may face food insecurities. During the pandemic schools faced big challenges to continue to meet those nutritional needs (Garcia & Weiss, 2020). Hardest hit has been children who are homeless. Prior to the pandemic these children were able to attend school and receive additional services. When school shifted to all remote learning, their education and support was effectively cut off.

    Mass Shootings and Gun Deaths:

    Since COVID-19 began, gun violence has increased throughout the United States. According to the Gun Violence Archive (2022), there have been 320 mass shootings with at least four injuries or deaths in the U.S. between January 1, 2022 and July 6, 2022 (see Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)). During the first 6 months of 2022, many high profile mass shooting have occurred, including 7 people killed during a parade in Highland Park, Illinois; 21 children and teachers killed in Uvalde, Texas; and 10 shoppers killed in Buffalo, New York in a racist attack. During the same period in 2021, there were 327 mass shootings and in 2020, there were 256. Mass shootings in 2022 are on target to approximate the 692 recorded in 2021, which was the highest figure since the Gun Violence Archive started tracking shootings in 2014 (Walsh, 2022). As can be seen in Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\), 10,286 people in the U.S. died due to firearms, in both intentional and accidental killings, so far this year. The 20,944 firearm deaths in 2021 was a seven-year high, and the U.S. is on pace to meet or exceed this number.

    The Gun Violence Archive of 2021, published on July 5, 2022, listed 45,034 total gun violence deaths consisting of 20,944 deaths due to homicide or unintentional causes, and 24,090 due to suicide. There were 40,585 total injuries, 692 mass shootings, and 28 mass murders. Out of children aged 0 to 11, 313 were killed and 750 were injured. Out of children aged 12 to 17, 1248 were killed and 3385 were injured. The Gun Violence Archive of 2022, published on July 6, 2022, listed 22,628 total gun violence deaths consisting of 10,286 deaths due to homicide or unintentional causes, and 12,342 due to suicide. There were 19,624 total injuries, 320 mass shootings, and 15 mass murders. Out of children aged 0 to 11, 181 were killed and 387 were injured. Out of children aged 12 to 17, 681 were killed and 1813 were injured.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\). Gun violence in 2021 and beginning of 2022. Image source.

    Children are certainly not immune from the gun violence, as can be seen in Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\). At 862 lives lost, the number of children and teens who have been killed in the first half of 2022 is already on pace to exceed the numbers in 2021. The same is true for the number of children injured. When children experience a trauma, watch it on TV, or overhear others discussing it, they can feel scared, confused, or anxious. Young people react to trauma differently than adults, and they can exhibit a variety of behaviors. According to SAMHSA (2022):

    Children, 6-10 years old, may fear going to school and stop spending time with friends. They may have trouble paying attention and do poorly in school overall. Some may become aggressive for no clear reason. Or they may act younger than their age by asking to be fed or dressed by their parent or caregiver.

    Youth and Adolescents, 11-19 years old, go through a lot of physical and emotional changes because of their developmental stage. So, it may be even harder for them to cope with trauma. Older teens may deny their reactions to themselves and their caregivers. They may respond with a routine "I'm okay" or even silence when they are upset. Or, they may complain about physical aches or pains because they cannot identify what is really bothering them emotionally. Some may start arguments at home and/or at school, resisting any structure or authority. They also may engage in risky behaviors such as using alcohol or drugs. (p. 2)

    School Shootings:

    As of May 16, 2022, there had already been 119 school shootings in total in the United States, as represented in Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\). Then on May 24, 2022, an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. It was the deadliest school shooting since 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012 (New York Times, 2022).

    Bar graph showing the number of school shootings each year between 1970 and June 2022. The number for 2021 is the highest by a significant margin, at nearly 250, and the next highest is 150 for 2022. The next highest values were all around 110, occurring in years 2018 through 2020.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\). U.S. school shootings from 1970 to June 2022. Image source.

    Children's exposure to violence is identified in some of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), as discussed in the previous chapter. However, exposure to violence involving a gun has not been specifically included in the definition and research of ACES (Rajan et al., 2019). In their review of the literature, Rajan and colleagues concluded that gun violence should be classified as an ACE, which would then increase the funding and research into prevention and intervention strategies.

    One measure to curb gun violence was enacted on June 25, 2022 when President Joe Biden signed a gun bill that increases background checks for people ages 18 to 20, prevents convicted domestic abusers from buying firearms, and encourages states to pass red-flag laws that allow judges to take away guns from people deemed a risk to themselves or others (Walsh, 2022). For many, the gun law fell short of more restrictive proposals, and stronger measures continue to be supported by many Americans. According to the Morning Consult/Politico poll conducted June 10–12, 2022, 68% of American voters backed stricter gun laws (Yokley, 2022).

    This page titled 5.C: COVID-19 Impact on Middle/Late Childhood is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Martha Lally and Suzanne Valentine-French via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.