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How to reduce remote learning burnout in kids

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Moving forward requires focus. Mashable’s Social Good Series is dedicated to exploring pathways to a greater good, spotlighting issues that are essential to making the world a better place.

Remote learning has children tethered to their screens. And while necessary to stop the spread of coronavirus, all this screen time can cause an unfortunate side effect in kids: remote learning burnout. 

Nancy (whose last name was withheld to protect her privacy) knows this phenomenon well. Last spring, when her daughter’s school went remote, her and her husband thought their daughter had adjusted well. During the school days, she would shut her door and not allow her parents in. They respected their elementary-school-aged daughter’s independence, assuming she was attending classes and getting her work done.

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In early June, though, she bounded down the stairs with a pair of scissors and her computer cord. She had cut the cord because she didn’t want to learn remotely anymore. Since then, she’s refused to be online except to play video games or watch movies and TV shows. Every time Nancy and her husband try to coax their daughter to the computer, she throws a tantrum. 

“She won’t do Zoom playdates with other kids anymore. We set her up for a virtual camp. She won’t do that,” says Nancy. 

Her daughter’s teachers also revealed that she would often leave online classes to play with her toys. This kind of behavior can be a tell-tale sign of remote learning burnout. When Nancy and her husband told her they were considering remote school again in the fall, her daughter burst into tears and said, “I can’t. I don’t want to ever do online learning again.” 

Broadly, burnout is defined as a lack of motivation or energy due to stress or exhaustion. It can be characterized by low morale, anger, irritability, anxiety, lack of focus, and trouble problem solving, says Dr. Pam Hurst-Della Pietra, founder and president of Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development, which researches technology’s impact on children and provides resources for parents.

For Dr. David Anderson, who treats children and adolescents with ADHD and other behavioral disorders at the Child Mind Institute, it’s not surprising that children experience burnout from remote learning. The nonprofit provides clinical care for children, teens, and young adults struggling with mental health conditions and learning disorders. 

“It [online school] has nowhere near the depth of stimuli that you get from traveling to school, being around friends, being in a classroom,” says Anderson. “We expect over time that some kids are going to stay engaged and some kids are going to get very bored with the same presentation day after day.”

While he says any child can be susceptible to burnout from remote learning, he knows that children with mental health conditions or learning disabilities may face additional challenges. For example, Nancy’s daughter, a former client of the Child Mind Institute, has anxiety and obsessive compulsive tendencies. Nancy says she wasn’t offered any extra support from her school during remote learning, and teachers were patient and understanding but “seemed to be just barely surviving themselves.”

“Schools are set up to provide in-person support for a lot of kids with learning challenges,” says Anderson. “But for a kid who’s really distractible, who can’t seem to sit still or stay in their seat… the digital format isn’t adapted to provide this support.”

Remote learning is also tough on parents, says Anderson. Many parents have told him that they now need to engage and support their kids if they need extra help, not teachers.

To that end, Anderson acknowledges that it’s OK if parents slip up during this difficult time. He urges them to practice self-care to cope with the challenges of remote learning, if they have the time and energy.

Hurst-Della Pietra suggests similarly that parents avoid blaming themselves, their child, or their child’s school if their kid is struggling with online school.  “Try to remain positive and adapt as you can, understanding that this is not a perfect system, but it is designed to keep everyone safe,” she explains. 

Fortunately, there are ways to overcome remote learning burnout or mitigate its repercussions. Mashable spoke with experts to get tips to alleviate its effect on your kid. 

Understand your kid’s needs and experiment with solutions

Many parents are already taxed from a spring of  online learning. But try to demonstrate a positive attitude, even when it’s difficult. Kids take their cues from you, says Hurst-Della Pietra. If you act like online school is horrible, they’ll pick up on that.

First, Hurst-Della Pietra recommends reminding your kid why an education’s important. You can ask them what they want to be when they grow up, and if they think that’s possible without an education. If applicable, you can also tell them a story about a time you were grateful for your own education. 

To help them focus on the positive aspects of remote school, ask them what they learned and found interesting after each school day (if you have the time and energy). You should also remind your kid that the situation is temporary and they don’t need to be perfect at online school.

You can optimize their workspace in the following ways to help them focus and get them excited about learning, says Anderson.

  • Decorate their work space to make it more engaging. This doesn’t have to cost extra money. For example, you can place your kid’s favorite photos, artwork, or Post-it notes with encouraging messages on their desk. Just make sure the additions aren’t distracting.

  • To that end, remove distractions like toys from the child’s room.

  • Put school supplies your kid likes in their learning area to get them excited about school.

  • Observe what helps your child pay attention. If you have multiple kids, try putting them in the same room so they feel more focused and less alone. If that further distracts your kid, though, separate them if you have the space. 

If you’ve tried to make the situation better for your kid yet they still complain about remote learning, don’t force them to like it, says Anderson. They might think you’re ignoring how they feel. Instead, recognize their feelings to help them validate their stress. You can say something like “I see how hard this is on you. Let’s think of solutions to make it easier.”

You can also ask open-ended questions like “What will make this experience better?” to show you’re willing to work collaboratively. Know that you might be met with a blank stare or a surly attitude, depending on your child’s age or disposition, says Anderson. While you can’t necessarily prevent this, it’s still good to ask for their input to show you care what they think.

If your kid completely refuses to log onto school, try to figure out why. Does it happen before a specific subject or because they don’t like a particular teacher?

“Does your child fight about logging in every day for every class? Or is it situation specific?” says Hurst-Della Pietra. “Getting at the root of the problem is important.” In doing so, you’ll be able to implement more effective solutions to make remote learning less painful. 

Ultimately, remember that your relationship with your child is also important, says Hurst-Della Pietra. While you want your child to learn, you don’t want them to blame you for having to log on, thus damaging your relationship. You also want to protect your own mental health. If you’re having constant fights over logging on, try seeking outside help by talking to your kid’s teacher about ways to make the experience more bearable (more on that later).

Practice with the technology beforehand

Some of the exhaustion your child might experience could be caused by the online learning platforms themselves, says Anderson. Some kids might feel frustrated if they can’t navigate a platform with ease. Or maybe they’re using multiple pieces of technology throughout the day.

To help, Anderson suggests that your child practice logging onto the platforms before school starts and clicking around, so they can get comfortable with it.

If your kid runs into issues, remind them that they can ask their teacher for help. Or, if their school has an IT staff, either of you could email them with questions. 

Anderson acknowledges that learning platforms can be daunting but encourages kids to familiarize themselves with each one as much as possible before asking if changes can be made.  

Develop a routine

Kids really benefit from predictability, says Hurst-Della Pietra. 

If kids know to expect a certain rhythm to the day, they’ll likely feel less overwhelmed, she says. This can also help your kid avoid waking up early or staying up late to finish assignments. 

To that end, sleep and consistent meal times are important, says Hurst-Della Pietra. Without quality sleep, it’ll be even harder for your child to learn, especially if they’re feeling burned out. And if they know to expect meals at certain times throughout the school day they can anticipate when they’ll have to stop working to eat. Plus, like a good night’s sleep, food provides energy to power through the day, says Hurst-Della Pietra.

Breaks are important, too. For example, you can schedule one hour of remote learning, and then have your kid take a break, then block in 30 minutes or an hour of wellness, like yoga or a walk, says Hurst-Della Pietra.

A lack of socialization might also contribute to your kid’s burnout, says Anderson. To guard against this, schedule socially-distanced playdates or Zoom hang outs before or after school. 

If you don’t have time or energy to monitor your kid’s schedule while you work from home, or you don’t work from home in the first place, you can call them on the phone to keep them on schedule or have family members and friends help with check-ins. 

Consider learning pods

If online schooling is just not working for your kid, explore whether you can start or join a learning pod suggests Hurst-Della Pietra. A small group of children meet in person to learn together, supplementing or replacing remote learning. Parents often hire tutors, teachers, or take on teaching duties themselves. 

Hurst-Della Pietra says they can help alleviate isolation in students, thereby reducing burnout from online learning, and school in general. 

If you do consider the pod route, do know they’re not a perfect solution. Pods can worsen racial inequity among students, which was already a problem before the pandemic. Read up on ways privileged parents can tackle the issue here

Unfortunately, pods aren’t an option for everyone given their cost and time commitment. If quitting online learning, isn’t feasible for your child or you, chat with your kid’s teacher about alternatives. 

Talk with your kid’s teacher

If you’ve noticed your child is depressed, anxious, or otherwise exhibiting emotional distress, it’s time for a talk with their teacher, says Hurst-Della Pietra. 

“We think schools are more empathic than ever to how difficult this [distance learning] is,” says Anderson. “People didn’t choose this… So we’ve seen more openness in terms of school and home collaborations than ever.”

However, Anderson cautions against dictating to teachers what should happen. This might cause defensiveness on their part. 

“If parents try to tell teachers how to do their jobs or teachers try to tell parents how to do their jobs, you often get less of a diplomatic engagement,” says Anderson. 

Instead, you can say something like “How can we reduce the struggles my child is experiencing? You can also tell them what you’ve observed about your child when it comes to online learning, so they know what works for your kid and what doesn’t. 

Here are some potential solutions to work on with your teachers that Hurst-Della Pietra recommends:

  • Suggest your child start and end the day with their favorite class or classroom activity (if they have one and that’s possible).

  • Ask teachers to include activities that could make online learning more engaging (like  games where your child interacts with other kids rather than just a teacher).

  • Explore the possibility of a flipped classroom, which includes small-group discussions and activities rather than lectures.

  • Ask if the teacher has space in their schedule for 1:1 time with your child, if they don’t already do this. 

  • Request that classes be recorded so your kid can access the material at any time, but know that recordings may not be possible because of privacy concerns. Hurst-Della Pietra thinks some kids may suffer from information overload, which could lead to burnout from remote learning. Recorded classes could take off the pressure to jot down everything during a class.

Hurst-Della Pietra also suggests connecting with fellow parents to learn if they’ve faced these challenges and what they’ve done. It might help to meet with the teacher or school administrators as a unified parent group.

“Parents are trying to do so much right now,” says Hurst-Della Pietra. “Things aren’t perfect right now. They [parents] have to give themselves a break.” 

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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.

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The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.

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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.

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The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.

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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.

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As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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