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Researchers Investigating How Isolation is Stressing Kids During the COVID-19 Pandemic

 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

​There are many societal impacts associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, beyond just the viral illness. One of the most widespread impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is the sudden, unexpected social isolation resul​ting from adults and children being encouraged or forced to stay at home, sometimes with accompanying job loss. W​hile isolation helps to slow the spread of the virus, it also creates another stressful and unhealthy set of problems.

Researchers at Boys Town National Research Hospital, led by Stuart White, Ph.D. and Anastasia Kerr-German, Ph.D., are attempting to determine how the sudde​n shift this spring has been affecting children who, without any transition, went from highly social school environments to at-home isolation. According to Dr. White, this pandemic is unprecedented in modern times, and technology and media make it unlike any historic comparisons.

Since COVID-19 virus transmission is still a concern, Dr. White and Dr. Kerr-German designed an online study to assess how the stress of this pandemic is affecting kids. The study has several components to help us get a clear idea of how kids are handling stress. Kids who participate will fill out a survey that asks relevant questions about things like how they are coping, how they feel about being at home, and their relation​ships. Parents will also complete a survey asking questions about how the family is coping with the pandemic.

Along with these quality of life indicators, youth will complete a series of downloadable computer tasks. Dr. Kerr-German says that their task performance will quantify things like emotion regulation, attention, and adaptive thinking. Finally, the data from the assessments will be put into biological context with hormone levels from a small hair sample.

Dr. White explains that human hair stores certain biological markers of stress that can be reliably analyzed for up to 3 months after a stressful event. Hair samples are also ideal for this study because they can be easily done at home and sent through the mail with minimal precautions.

This research will support our own extensive youth care programs, as well as supporting best practices at other organizations. School administrators and other policy makers are also in need this kind of critical information as they weigh the importance of returning to school and assessing what complicating factors they will need to deal with when they are allowed to return. If you are interested in finding out more about this study, you can contact the lab at DCN.lab@boystown.org.

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