Is Online School Right For Your Child?

Our kids are getting ready to return to school after the summer break.  Living in Colorado there seems to be a big push for kids to “attend” school online.  There are pros and cons associated with online schools.  I have seen online schools be the most helpful for those kids who are unable to attend school for medical reasons.  Some children are undergoing difficult medical procedures, immune compromised, or have contagious illnesses.  For these children actually being able to go to school may not be something that they are able to do.  Online school may also be appropriate for the student who is behind in credits and is not going to be able to graduate with his or her peers.  This student could likely take some online courses in order to catch up so that he or she could graduate with their own class.  Another possible reason that a student may choose online schooling is to be able to graduate faster than attending regular classes or because of their other responsibilities.  Some children are very good athletes who need to have a flexible schedule to account for this.  Other students may be engaging in other professional activities that would make it unable for them to attend class.  Some of these may be acting, modeling, or family obligations. 

However, I have several concerns about online schools and for some of the children who decide to attend online schools.  One concern is the lack of supervision that many children experience when they are at home working on school work, versus being at a school.  Parents may need to be at work all day and that leaves children home alone to try to manage their time and stay on task with completing their work.  Another concern I have is the lack of social exposure these children receive by not being at school.  One of the online schools here in Colorado offers classes for grades Kindergarten through 12th grade.  I was shocked thinking about what Kindergarten could possibly benefit from online school.  I have yet to answer this question.  Children begin to learn social skills; such as sharing, being assertive, communicating, and respecting others; starting in Kindergarten.  I do not believe that any of these skills could be taught online.  I believe that our culture is already focused on communicating through technology and we are starting to see new generations who struggle to engage in appropriate social interactions.  How will online school impact our culture and the social skills that our children will be learning?  Learning how to respect an adult, stay on task in the midst of distractions, make eye contact, show impulse control by raising your hand to speak, or sharing with other children are skills that we learn by modeling, or watching others.  So if we are only exposed to a computer, are we really able to learn how to do these skills?  What might happen to this generation of online school children who grow up without these skills? 

Some parents will disagree with my thoughts and opinions.  I recognize that some parents may have a different view of online school.  I have worked with several adolescents who decide to withdraw from school and attend an online school.  The majority of these students who I have worked with, end up not completing their courses online.  Most of these students struggle to be able to manage their time to complete their work, spend time with friends, and engage in other activities.  I believe that this is a skill that we are able to really learn once we go to college or begin working.  Expecting an adolescent who is home without supervision all day to complete school work (especially if they have already struggled to complete school work while at school) is an unreasonable expectation.  I worry about how many children believe that they can independently complete high school and the ones who end up getting further and further behind and there isn’t a school counselor or anyone who can help redirect them. 

If you are considering online school for your child I encourage you to think about why.  I have worked with some children who are very anxious in social situations and their parents want them to do school at home.  Unfortunately, taking away situations that cause anxiety will only increase the anxiety when we have to be in that situation.  Because we are social beings, every person will likely have to interact in social situations throughout their lives.  Allowing your child to learn coping skills for his or her anxiety so that the anxiety can diminish and they can feel comfortable being around other people.  You may have good reasons for your child to attend online school.  Just make sure that you are taking into account your child’s needs and what is in the best interest of your child to set him or her up for success! 

Trusted Therapy, Inc

Tonya McFarland, PsyD

1030 Johnson Rd, Suite #280

Golden, CO  80401