The word “homeschooling” probably doesn’t bring the same images to mind today as it once did. Thanks to the internet and the availability of lesson plans, educational materials, and full courses online, if kids are doing their learning at home, it’s probably thanks to cyber school technology.
Schooling children at home has long been a compelling choice for parents with children who don’t thrive in traditional academic settings for one reason or another. Modern cyberschool technology has made this an even more realistic option for many households, including those whose children suffer from depression or an anxiety disorder.
How Do I Know If My Child Has Anxiety?
Children are robust and inquisitive creatures, and they delight in taking the lead and directing their own activities, including how they learn.
It’s true that kids can be shy when they encounter new people and circumstances, but children shouldn’t be shy or fearful all the time. In an academic setting, children should feel comfortable and confident enough to focus intently on learning. But for some kids, anxiety can hold them back.
Be on the lookout
There are several signs of anxiety to look out for in children, including:
- Trouble focusing
- Frequent headaches and stomach aches
- Shortness of breath
- Unnatural amount of fear centered on attending classes
- Frequent “tantrums” while doing homework
- General restlessness
If you know a child who seems to struggle with self-doubt, shyness, or fearfulness on a daily basis, and you believe it’s impacting their academic performance, it’s possible this child is suffering from some type of anxiety disorder.
As adults and caregivers, it’s important to remember that all children are uncertain of themselves from time to time. But anxiety that manifests as a daily, preoccupying worry saps focus and will from the things that matter most — like learning.
Know what it looks like
Knowing what anxiety looks like is important because not enough people do. The Child Mind Institute’s 2015 report on children’s mental health indicated that while depression and other anxiety disorders are treatable, 80% of children with anxiety-related conditions and 60% of children with depression do not receive treatment.
It’s estimated that between one in eight and one in 20 children in the U.S. suffers from an anxiety disorder or depression. Moreover, children with anxiety who go without treatment tend to perform more poorly on academic work, avoid social engagements and important childhood experiences, and even engage in substance use and abuse.
Children shouldn’t be left to muddle through their schoolwork when anxiety is holding them back from performing as well as they could be. So is cyber school the answer?
What Is cyber school?
First of all, what is cyber school?
A typical day at cyber school will look a little bit different for a fourth-grader than it will for a seventh or eighth-grader. There are several familiar hallmarks of cyber schools at every grade level, however.
Students at cyber school:
- Attend virtual classes and live lessons
- Interact with instructors and other students online
- Engage in free-play or self-directed learning
- Take assessments and test at times that work for them
- Perform homework outside of school hours and submit their work digitally
At the early grade school levels, parents become learning coaches for their children. They and help them settle into productive and repeatable academic routines. Cyber school shines here in providing a degree of flexibility when it comes to how and when students tackle their lessons.
As children progress in their learning and embark on high school-level courses, students learn to take a more active hand in their own educational development and work more independently. At this point, they’ll begin interacting with counselors and others to help make postgraduate plans.
Why is cyber school a potential answer for kids with anxiety?
It’s hard to watch a child struggle with their classwork for any reason. Thankfully, the technology behind cyber school is today, more useful and accessible than ever before. The homeschooling of years past, where parents either had to do their best to teach their kids or keep a tutor on retainer, has given way to virtual classrooms and online learning experiences.
For children who can’t focus on their classwork in a traditional setting, who have high levels of fear while attending school, or who can’t attend school at all because of crippling anxiety, cyber school could be an attractive and effective alternative.
The best course for most parents with a child with anxiety is to keep them in school and continue their education while they receive treatment for their anxiety or depression. This is a difficult or impossible proposition for households that send their kids to brick-and-mortar schools. But cyber school provides another way.
Cyber school partnerships
“Cyber school” usually refers to a partnership between a local school and a distance learning technology company. This partnership makes familiar school curricula and course materials available over the internet in a semi-structured format.
Students can learn at their own pace in surroundings that they find comforting. The result is a greater focus, less fear, and the ability to more effectively balance the time they spend on education with the time they spend in counseling and treatment.
There are several potential advantages that cyber school offers:
- Staying on top of schoolwork and deadlines can be anxiety-inducing even under ideal circumstances. Kids can work at their own pace and learn good personalized habits.
- Children aren’t distracted by the unpredictable social interactions and unfamiliar situations typical of many school environments.
- If a child struggles with a topic or subject, knowing they’re falling behind in a classroom setting can worsen their anxiety and further erode their academic performance and confidence. Cyberschool lets them take the time they need to understand each topic as it’s presented.
Cyber school technology
One important point to make is that many, and perhaps most, cyber school technology solutions offer some kind of peer social interaction. Attending a brick-and-mortar school each day can become too much unstructured and unpredictable social interaction for children with anxiety. However, it’s important that any distance learning technology that comes into the picture facilitates this kind of interaction.
Parents of children with anxiety should be working to help their child navigate into social situations with greater confidence rather than helping the child escape from the pressure of peer interactions entirely. The critical difference is giving the child some manner of control over those interactions. And for that, cyber school excels. Some distance learning programs even offer field trips: an ideal way to ease your child out of his or her comfort zone in manageable intervals.
Treatment must accompany cyber school
The only word of warning here is a reminder of what’s already been said: If a child continues to demonstrate any of the known signs of anxiety and/or depression, it’s time to seek treatment for them. It’s entirely possible to continue one’s education while receiving help with an anxiety disorder diagnosis.
Know the signs, obtain a qualified medical diagnosis, and then explore treatment options.
Some parents who choose a cyber school to address their child’s anxiety disorder, but don’t place the same emphasis on formal treatment for that disorder, may be surprised to find after several years in cyber school that their child isn’t any likelier to pursue face-to-face interactions than they were at the start. Cyber school is a compelling route forward for children whose fear and anxiety hold them back. It may also develop into a crutch without the proper tools accompanying it.
Related Content: Anxiety: How to Decide Which Treatment is Best for You
In the case mentioned above, where the anxious child eventually preferred “cyber friends” over friends in the real world, the answer was cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. CBT is one of the gold standards when it comes to treating depression and anxiety and imparting healthy coping mechanisms. It may or may not be joined by exposure and response prevention, or ERP, in which the patient is gradually exposed to anxiety-inducing events over time so they can learn to manage their fears step-by-step.
Students should receive one or both of these therapies while continuing their educational careers. At the end of the day, there’s no reason why an anxiety disorder or depression diagnosis has to get in the way of anybody living a productive, inquisitive, and fruitful life. Cyber school may very well open doors for students who feared they’d remain closed.
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Jennifer Landis, writer and founder of Mindfulness Mama, has been writing for the last decade and holds a BA in journalism. She is an avid goal setter and achiever.
Jennifer’s proudest accomplishments include two all-natural births, running a marathon, successfully making a croquembouche, and running two half marathons.
In addition to The Doctor Weighs In, her writing has appeared in VeryWell Family, Fortune, Scary Mommy, The Huffington Post, and Women’s Running. Tweet her your favorite health tips @JenniferELandis.