How COVID School Closings Affect Children’s Mental Health

A CDC report suggests that virtual instruction might present mental health risks to school-aged children.

In a March 2021 report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that due to school closings during the pandemic, children not receiving in-person instruction might experience increased risk for negative mental, emotional, or physical health outcomes and might need additional support to mitigate pandemic effects.

This report is based on a nationwide survey conducted during October 8 - November 13, 2020, in which 1,290 parents or legal guardians of children aged 5–12 years were surveyed. Among the respondents, 45.7% reported that their child received virtual instruction, 30.9% in-person instruction, and 23.4% combined instruction.

According to the CDC report, parents of children receiving virtual instruction were more likely than were parents of children receiving in-person instruction to report that their children experienced decreased physical activity, less time spent outside, less in-person time with friends, more virtual time with friends, and worsened mental or emotional health.

A noticeable finding is that parents of children receiving virtual instruction more frequently reported that their child’s mental or emotional health worsened during the pandemic (24.9% versus 15.9%).

It is also concerning that children receiving virtual instruction had less physical activity, spent less time outside and less in-person time with friends. Prior research findings have shown that regular physical activity is associated with reduced risk for depression and anxiety, whereas isolation and limited outside activity can adversely affect children’s mental health.



Verlenden JV, Pampati S, Rasberry CN, et al. Association of Children’s Mode of School Instruction with Child and Parent Experiences and Well-Being During the COVID-19 Pandemic — COVID Experiences Survey, United States, October 8–November 13, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2021;70:369–376. DOI:


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