Living with Children: Parent, 9-year-old both dread virtual learning


QUESTION: Our 9-year-old has just learned he is not going back to school on schedule in the fall. Instead, he will be doing distance learning by computer and home instruction. We had to do this for the last six weeks of the last school term and he did not like it at all.

Up until now, he has loved school and been a great student. To homeschool him, I had to take a leave of absence from my job, but I’m just not suited to it it seems. Our family can squeak by without a second income, so that’s not the primary issue, but I feel like we’re caught between a rock and a hard place.

It looks like I have to quit my job and my son is very upset that he won’t be going back to school. He cries about it, isn’t sleeping well some nights, and is beginning to develop some obedience issues. Do you have any ideas for me?

ANSWER: Over the last several months, I’ve been bombarded by folks who are describing similar problems. I’ll tell you what I’ve told them but keep in mind, a one-size-fits-all answer does not exist.

According to parent reports, children’s reactions to the closing of schools have ranged from apathy to making the best of it. No doubt about it, significant numbers of children are experiencing mental health issues including depression, anxiety, and various forms of acting out.

That is understandable given that for many kids, no school combined with no after-school sports means virtual isolation at home. Unfortunately, that often translates into over-exposure to screen-based devices that have been shown to have negative effects on both mood and behavior.

I cannot be more adamant: Do not allow your child to fill his time with video games, unsupervised time on the computer, and the like. Help him connect face-to-face with other children and free play activities.

Let’s begin this problem-solving exercise by asking: Does the shuttering of schools in your state extend to all forms of private education as well? If not, and since your income is discretionary, then consider sending your son to a private school.

As for you not being suited to homeschooling, consider that the public-school curricula in question were not designed for that purpose. Public schools are attempting to shoehorn a classroom-based education model into homeschooling. That is not a valid means of assessing one’s “suitability” – whether parent or child – for homeschooling.

Get in touch with your local homeschool coordinator. Ask her to recommend a curriculum and find out what sorts of homeschool options are available in your area. There well may be one that fits both you and your son. The “university model,” for example, combines group instruction and home-based instruction. That might allow you to work part-time while providing your son with a good amount of needed socializing.

Finally, see if you can find a retired teacher in your area whom you can hire to homeschool in your stead. You might even be able to form a small homeschool group with children of other parents who are in the same boat.

This will pass, but just as Covid-19 is permanently altering the way people work, it is going to alter the “look” of education in America. It may well be time to shake things up a bit anyway.

[Family psychologist John Rosemond:, Copyright 2020, John K. Rosemond]