Poll Charts U.S. Parents' Biggest Worries During Pandemic

MONDAY, Dec. 21, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Life has changed for a lot of families during the pandemic, and that has brought with it many worries for parents.

A new national poll found that parents' top concerns for their children include overuse of social media and screen time, internet safety, depression, suicide, unhealthy eating and lack of physical activity. Overall, they ranked COVID-19 as number 10 on their list of worries.

Those concerns diverged some, depending on race and ethnicity. While black parents ranked racism as the No. 1 concern and COVID-19 as the second-greatest concern, racism did not reach the top 10 for white families. It was the sixth-greatest concern for Hispanic parents, who ranked COVID-19 as No. 8.

The C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at Michigan Medicine-University of Michigan received responses from more than 2,000 parents with children aged 18 and younger.

"This is an especially challenging time for families, with many children experiencing significant changes in routine that may negatively impact their health and well-being," said Mott Poll co-director and pediatrician Dr. Gary Freed. "Parents' biggest concerns for young people seem to be associated with changes in lifestyle as a result of the pandemic. COVID-19 has turned the world of our children and teens upside down in many ways and this is reflected in how parents rate health issues in 2020."

Differences in priorities are likely due to Black and Hispanic communities being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 in the United States, Freed said. Systemic racism has also been a national focus.

Black parents were the only group to rate gun injuries and unequal access to health care as top 10 concerns. White parents were the only group to rank lack of physical activity in the top 10.

"Families' backgrounds and experiences likely shape what health concerns they prioritize as most pressing for American children today," Freed said in a poll news release.

Children targeted by racism have higher rates of depression, anxiety and behavior problems, research shows. Finding ways for young people to get involved either through safely participating in protests or supporting groups or causes that aim to fight racism can be valuable, Freed said.

"Although racism directly affects specific populations, its impact on children's health is a societal concern," Freed said. "It's important for parents to recognize the detrimental consequences of racism for children in our communities."

Breaking down some of parents' other concerns, Freed said parents can feel comfortable worrying less about how much time their kids use technology and focus more on how they're using it. Technology can be an important vehicle to maintaining social and family connections, he said. It is important to set clear ground rules and boundaries for how and when kids can use devices, as well as to watch out for cyberbullying and online abuse.

To ward off negative impacts on physical and emotional health, Freed recommends encouraging kids to talk about their feelings and finding healthy coping outlets. Keeping consistent sleep schedules is also important.

Mott experts also recommend intentional "unplugged" times to spend together as a family and getting outside daily, even for a brisk walk.

Parents should be aware of red flags that kids need help managing feelings, including comments about hurting themselves or dramatic shifts in mood, appetite and sleep, Freed noted. Reach out to pediatricians and consider enlisting the help of a therapist. Children who have lost family members to COVID-19 may need more attention and mental health services to cope with their loss.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tips on keeping children healthy during the pandemic.

SOURCE: Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan, news release, Dec. 21, 2020

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