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How Academic Stress and Digital Learning Impact Students’ Mental Health

As technology continues to evolve the landscape of our lives, children and adults are learning how to adapt and integrate the benefits it offers. While the benefits of virtual work and school are abundant, there are also many setbacks, especially concerning students’ mental health

Stress plays a big role in mental wellbeing for people of all ages, and while there are many reasons for children to feel stressed, full schedules and responsibilities, relentless media overload and less sleep are just a few. Academic pressure is one of the biggest and most consistent reasons children feel stressed. 

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While academic pressure isn’t a new problem, kids are experiencing overwhelming academic pressure at an earlier age than ever before. Besides pressure to succeed, technology has changed how kids engage with their schoolwork, instructors and peers — for many students, compounding the pressure. 

Now more than ever, we need to address how typical academic stress impacts students’ mental health. Let’s examine how digital learning has impacted traditional academic stress and learn how caregivers can provide a support system that nourishes our children’s mental health. 

Relationship Between Academic Stress and Students’ Mental Health 

Academic stress and its impact on mental health is a well-researched topic. Research shows academic stress leads to feelings of decreased wellbeing and an increased likelihood of developing anxiety or depression. Additionally, students who have academic stress tend to do poorly in school. This shows how stress from academics can prevent kids from doing as well as they could. 

At the same time, there’s good news. Research also suggests if children are provided with a more supportive academic situation, students will have more positive mental health. Knowing this, let’s look at how the influence of new technology impacts academic stress.

Consider the Hidden Impacts of Technology 

As technology evolves and digital devices are used daily in many classrooms, educators have embraced technology to enhance learning environments. While there are clear benefits and opportunities, technology-driven education schooling can sometimes enhance stress and be a lot for kids to handle.

A benefit of tech-driven learning, for example, is the opportunity for students to hear, see or read instructions multiple times, work at their own pace and have access to more materials and resources. But downsides include more distractions, more potential ways for miscommunication and less personalization for each student.

As adults, many of us are accustomed to IT interfaces and tools, but for younger students, the added layers of technology can seem overwhelming. Technology brings new challenges that add to the pressures of schooling. Instead of just learning how to solve math problems, kids must learn the software and troubleshoot computer issues. If a student hits a roadblock in the assignment, academic stress adds up. 

Online learning is much more than just learning the subject matter at hand. While digital learning is powerful, increased frustration and stress can contribute to the typical factors of academic stress, such as difficulty understanding new material. A digital learning framework is always present with students and learn to adapt.

Digital Learning and Technology: Class is Always in Session

Many parents remember a time when they as kids could go home and disconnect from school. Sure, there were homework assignments to complete and tests to study for. But there was also a moment to disconnect, relax and recharge. 

Today, students have online portals requiring them to log in, where they can easily send or receive messages from instructors or classmates. While accessibility is good, the flip side to this benefit is students can be overwhelmed and without an opportunity to fully unplug. Getting away and disconnecting from school and schoolwork is just as important for kids as it is for remote workers.

Playing outside, reading for fun and enjoying time with friends or family are necessary leisure activities for de-stressing. But these activities can be less enjoyable if kids feel they need to check on assignments or be online for discussion. Just like adults need to disconnect from work emails, kids should be able to log off from school. If your kids are taking digital classes, consider creating boundaries from school for your children — it’s important for their mental health.  

Separated from Support

For years, researchers have been saying even though digital devices give us more ways to connect, they can also make us more lonely. While technology might be a bridge to make learning happen, it isn’t the same as direct contact. Technology can enhance learning, but it can sometimes limit or lack the support systems that a physical school setting offers. 

Digital learning can also worsen the risk of feelings of isolation and loneliness. Stress can build from the inability to raise a hand and ask for clarification from teachers. Similarly, being away from classmates may increase feelings of being alone. This presents a deeper challenge for those who are shy and/or afraid to speak up.

Figuring out technology, constant connectedness and a lack of support are stressors that make school even more difficult for kids. This newer form of academic stress only adds to the typical academic pressure to succeed. Handling it all is a lot to ask of our kids, and it’s not surprising to see students’ mental health start to suffer. 

Ending the Stigma

Education in the digital age can affect the mental health of children and adults! But here’s the good news: the stigma against mental health challenges is weakening

Through organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), and The Child Mind Institute, Americans are starting to take mental health more seriously. Further, educators and parents are considering how kids might be affected by academic pressure. 

By increasing awareness and understanding surrounding academic stress, how it is evolving, and how our kids are affected, all of us (school boards and administrators, educators and parents) can work together to improve academic stress for all students. 

To start helping your loved ones master their mental health and stress, particularly with school, be open to conversation. Look into helpful resources like The Five Things Every Child Needs for Good Mental Health, which includes background information on a child’s mental health framework, plus tips to support students’ mental health through: 

  • A safe and supportive environment 
  • Positive interactions 
  • Emotional literacy
  • Appropriate guidance, discipline and praise
  • Building resilience

Showing you care and want to help is a huge step to creating positive ways to help your kids succeed! For more resources about children’s mental health, explore our services and learn how KVC Health Systems can serve your family.

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