In this Contemporary Pediatrics interview, James Wallace, MD, discusses increased trends in school avoidance and the negative effects associated with less days in the classroom.
This Contemporary Pediatrics® interview features James Wallace, MD, associate professor, Department of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, University of Rochester Medical Center, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Faculty Trainer, The REACH Institute. Wallace explains how excessive missed school days can have a negative impact on children, and how these trends have increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This interview is part 1 of a 2-part series discussing school avoidance with James Wallace, MD. Click here for part 2.
Transcript (edited for clarity):
Hi, and thank you so much for visiting Contemporary Pediatrics. I'm editor, Joshua Fitch.
James Wallace, MD:
And I'm Jim Wallace. I'm a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Rochester, and also faculty of the REACH Institute.
Dr. Wallace, thank you so much for speaking with us today. Today we're going to talk about school avoidance. It's that time, mid-to late-September, a lot of kids are already back in school, what kind of trends are being observed when it comes to missed school days and school avoidance overall, and what kind of data supporting that if you can?
Well, we have a lot of concerns about missing school. Chronic absenteeism is missing more than 15 days in a calendar year, and kids are already missing several days, so it happens very quickly. That's the cutoff where people start to fall behind socially, academically, and they feel disconnected from the school. There were trends before the pandemic, but with the pandemic, there has been a huge upsurge. So that number was maybe 10%, or 15%, before the pandemic, and it's up to 30% or 35% now, so it has really skyrocketed. My son who is a teacher tells me the administration has actually changed their threshold of getting after people, because it's so common that kids missed so much school that they can't go after everybody. They don't work at it as hard as they used to. When I was a kid, it was a big deal to miss a day of school and now it's become pretty common.
It's such a virtual world we live in, exacerbated by the pandemic, as you said. What is next? For example, how can a general pediatrician on well visits or what have you, kind of say 'hey, you know, we need you in the classroom for X, Y, and Z reasons.' How do you reach these children or the parents for that matter?
There's been a lot of studies, and we don't have it all figured out as far as the social media and video gaming and the impact of all those sort of, what they call screen media activities. At first, we just looked at a number, like how many hours a day is too much and now people are starting to look a little more closely at which activities are more destructive, and give you negative messages and kind of pull kids under a little bit and which are more social connectedness and maybe aren't quite as bad. They surveyed teenagers and found that almost 100% of the time that they can, they're connected, they're online. In kids even under 13, it tends to be more than 5 hours a day. So, kids are really connected. One of the things that does is it interferes with our ability to spend the time to socialize in person. So, kids tend not to join clubs and sports, things like that. They go home and they get online, or they're on their phone. It definitely is pulling kids under a little bit and the details we have yet to sort out. It's one of those things, you can't put the genie back in the bottle, it's going to be the trend of the future, so we just have to figure out how to do the best we can. The American Academy of Pediatrics does have a media guide, a media plan for families. It's really useful to look at this when kids are really, really young, and say "what do we want to do about, phones, how old Do we want to give them their phones? What are we going to do about mealtime, what are we going to do by bedtime?" All those things that families should look at as soon as possible. So the child guidance with really young families is really where to put a lot of effort right now. It's very hard to change once kids have established a pattern, and they're 17 [years old] to suddenly say, "I'm going to take away your phone now." That's catastrophic to a teenager. So it's a real challenge.