More than two years later, there is new information about the impact the change has had on teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 and their parents. In a survey released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, there are signs some things are going back to how they were before the pandemic, but some teens are feeling left behind. The survey found that most children have maintained close relationships with friends and family during the pandemic and prefer to go to school in person rather than remotely. However, there are notable differences in how the pandemic, particularly remote learning, has affected black and Hispanic teens and low-income families.
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“One thing that stands out is that we tend to see a difference in teen experiences based on their household income,” said Colleen McClain, a Pew research associate who focuses on internet research and technology.
Some of the most striking differences relate to homework completion, known as the “homework gap”. Some teenagers fall behind in their schoolwork, often due to a lack of proper technology to complete homework. Twenty-two percent of teens said they had to finish homework on their phone, and 12% said they sometimes couldn’t finish homework because they didn’t have the technology to do so. Lack of computers, smart phones and reliable home internet are all contributing factors. Twenty percent of low-income students living in households with an annual income of $30,000 or less reported not having a computer at home.
Childhood experts had worried about the impact of isolation on teenage relationships at the start of the pandemic. About half of teens said they felt as close or closer to their parents as they did before the coronavirus crisis, and 49% said they managed to maintain close relationships with friends. However, a third of teens said they connected less with people outside this inner circle, such as classmates. These relationships were another area where Hispanic and Black teens reported less positive experiences. They were more likely than white teenagers to feel less close to their friends.
Even teens who have done well while learning remotely prefer to be back in class full-time, the survey found. A majority of all teens said they would prefer going to school entirely in person, while 9% said they would prefer to be totally remote.
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Although there is a stronger preference for in-person learning, there are notable differences between the groups. Black teens are less likely to say they only want to go to school in person since the pandemic, while Hispanic teens are more likely to want a hybrid setup. Teens living in low-income households are less likely to want to return to school entirely in person, with 15% saying they would prefer to attend school entirely online.
The study comes just as most students are finishing the school year and are mostly back to in-person learning. Eighty percent of students said they attended school entirely in person in the past month, while only 8% said they attended school entirely online.
While many of the changes required at the start of the pandemic were temporary, some of the technological requirements have remained in place – and not without consequences. A recent study by Human Rights Watch found that of 164 education apps reviewed, almost 90% were designed to collect and share student data with ad tech companies. The increase in smartphone use among students, especially teenagers, has led some educators to try to integrate these devices into their lesson plans. It can also leave students without access to expensive smartphones.
Educators at all levels have worried about whether remote learning will leave some children behind. Parents of teens have mixed reviews of their different schools’ approaches to virtual education, and they tend to be more satisfied with it than the kids themselves. Among parents, 39% say they are satisfied with how schools have handled remote learning, while only 28% of teenagers said the same.
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The majority of teens are also not worried about falling behind during the pandemic, while 28% of parents say they are very or extremely worried about their children falling behind because of the coronavirus crisis.
“There is no one-size-fits-all experience for teens when it comes to experiencing school during the pandemic,” said Monica Anderson, associate director of research at Pew.
The new report is based on a survey conducted from April 14 to May 4, 2022, of 1,316 American teenage pairs and their parents, Pew said.