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What Parents Should Really Worry About Now, Ranked

From screen time to your kid's health, future finances to grandparents breaking quarantine, here's how to organize your biggest concerns and fears.

This pandemic is a threat that, it’s safe to say, is unlike any we’ve seen before. It is concerning for our family’s health, of course, but also their livelihood, education, and everyone’s future. 90,000 deaths, 36 million unemployed, and trillions in stimulus dollars: These numbers put the world through a fish-eyed lens rather than focus the fears. What is most important to me and mine? This is an essential question. Prioritizing anxieties — and the actions to take — can help parents get through this all with less damage done to bodies, money, and minds. 

This is why we offer up this shortlist, ranked from least to most concern, of coronavirus fears for parents. They’re put in context and numbered because we all need a little help with prioritization right now. So, go ahead, worry less about your kids’ health and give the grandparents a little more love — and support.

10. Screen Time

Your kid is getting a lot more screen time now that they’re home 24-7 and you need something to distract them as you try to get some work done. Obviously, this isn’t ideal. In young children, more screen time is associated with higher BMI, less sleep, and poorer executive functioning, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends limiting screen time to an hour a day for kids aged 2 to 5. But experts also realize that may not be possible during quarantine. If plopping your kid in front of the TV for a few hours is what allows you to make money to feed that kid, you’re doing the right thing.

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9. COVID-19 Risk to Your Child

That’s right. Your kid getting COVID-19 should be the least of your concerns right now. That doesn’t mean you can go back to playdates and jungle gyms. Kids may be able to transmit the disease, and they can become severely ill. But in general, they aren’t likely to get seriously sick from COVID-19 — or even catch it. It’s difficult to tell the exact number of kids that pick up the coronavirus because so many of those who are infected don’t have symptoms. That said, only 1 percent of COVID-19 cases are in kids under age 10, according to a February study out of China. From the beginning of February to May 9, only 12 children in the United States age 14 and under have died due to COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some children with COVID-19 may develop a Kawasaki-like syndrome that can cause heart problems and organ failure. Though this mysterious condition has grabbed the attention of parents around the world, it’s rare. New York, for example, is investigating 137 cases, according to the New York Times. Doctors in Italy tracked a local 30-fold increase in cases of the condition from mid-February to mid-April compared to their usual prevalence of Kawasaki disease, which is an average of 0.3 children per month. Even with the increase, the chance of your kid getting Kawasaki disease or the new syndrome is minuscule.

Everything besides staying at home is risky right now. But you don’t have the time and energy to freak out about every potential danger. Understanding the threats can help you keep them in perspective. Focus on what’s in your control. Do what you can to protect your family, focusing on who needs your protection most.

8. A Car Crash

Okay, this one has nothing to do with COVID-19 either. But it does put the coronavirus risk to your kids into perspective. In 2018, 880 kids under the age of 13 died in car accidents, either in the car, or as pedestrians or bikers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. If COVID-19 remains as lethal for kids as it has been over the past few months, car accidents will still be about 18 times more deadly. So even though COVID-19 has taken over our collective consciousness, your kids face bigger risks in their everyday lives. (One caveat: People are traveling less right now, so car accident rates could be lower than expected this year.)

7. You Get COVID-19

COVID-19 risk increases with age, according to the CDC. While parents aren’t at nearly the same risk as their elderly  parents, they are still vulnerable to the virus. But not terribly so. In New York City, only 3.9 percent of confirmed deaths up until May 12 have been in people ages 18-44, according to the city’s health department. The majority of those adults had an underlying condition. 

While adults in their 30s and 40s aren’t at the greatest risk of COVID-19, they have suffered one unexpected outcome: stroke. J. Mocco, the director of Mount Sinai’s Cerebrovascular Center, told NPR on April 29 that he observed a seven time increase in severe strokes in this age group due to the coronavirus. What’s especially noteworthy is that many of these adults did not have other risk factors for stroke.

6. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Though sudden infant death syndrome isn’t related to the coronavirus either, it’s just as scary for new parents. It’s also deadlier. SIDS killed 1,400 infants in 2017, according to the CDC. Experts don’t know what causes SIDS, though they suspect it is related to issues in the parts of the brain that control breathing and waking from sleep, according to the Mayo Clinic. Most infants who die from SIDS do so in their sleep.

5. Home Injury

About 2,000 kids under age 14 and under die each year due to home injuries, according to Stanford Children’s Health. The most common home injuries that lead to death are falls, choking, poisoning, suffocation, drowning, firearms, and fires and burns. The number of non-lethal injuries is much higher. Many of these injuries are preventable with child safety precautions you can take in the home. When you look to strained healthcare systems — that packed and slow emergency room — these concerns only rise.

4. COVID-19 Risk to Your Child’s Education

Schools around the country have closed to stem the transmission of the coronavirus. More than 40 states have shut classroom doors for the remainder of the academic year, according to TODAY. Most high school students can attend school virtually, but e-learning isn’t feasible for younger children. Many of them will lose the math and reading skills they gained this year, slipping behind in their education.

It’s difficult to rank COVID-19 deaths and severe illness against something less lethal like schooling. But, as any parent knows, education is crucial to your kid’s future. Children who receive more education grow up to have better health, live longer, and make more money, according to a brief from Virginia Commonwealth University. And whereas COVID-19 itself will only directly affect a small proportion of children, many of the 55 million students nationwide will be affected by school closings.

If kids’ learning slides during school closures the way it does over summer break, they may only make 70 percent of reading gains in comparison to a typical school year and only 50 percent of math gains, according to a projection from NWEA, an education non-profit. Some children will fall a full year behind — and that’s presuming schools open in the fall. Any longer and the consequences could be worse. Children from low-income families will probably take the hit hardest, just as they do over summers. Lost learning time may also result in lower earnings in the future. For high school students, there’s also the risk of dropping out. The more time kids spend not in school, the less likely they are to finish their education — and many are skipping online classes, according to USA Today.

3. Obesity

People with obesity are at greater risk of getting severely sick with COVID-19, but that’s not why obesity is on this list. Nearly 20 percent of deaths in the U.S. are associated with obesity, Medscape reports. People with obesity are at risk for the leading causes of death in the country and worldwide, including, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers, according to the CDC. They’re also at greater risk for a lower quality of life, mental illness, and body pain. Obesity affects about 42 percent of adults and 19 percent of children in the U.S.

2. The Recession

Because of COVID-19, about 36.5 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the past 8 weeks — the most in U.S. history, according to CNBC. As of the end of April, the unemployment rate was 14.7 percent, and Goldman Sachs predicted it could reach 25 percent this year, according to CBS News. Though some job losses are temporary layoffs, about 40 percent could be permanent, Marketplace reports. Even those who do keep their jobs could be in financial trouble. As of April 12, about 33 percent of those still employed had to take a pay cut, according to Pew Research Center.

Losing a job isn’t always immediately deadly, especially if you have money saved up or your partner is still employed. But recessions have great tolls that impact family health through the long-term. 

The most obvious risk of unemployment is hunger. The non-profit Feeding America predicted that 9.9 million more people could become food insecure if the U.S. hit the unemployment and poverty levels of the Great Recession. We have already topped the unemployment rate by more than 4 percentage points. Low-income families may especially have a difficult time feeding their kids because school closures means no free meals for qualifying kids. In April, nearly 1 in 5 moms with kids ages 12 and under reported that their children are going hungry because their family can’t afford food, according to research from the Brookings Institution.

Another major risk is to mental health. The end of the recession saw an increase in suicides, particularly in men, for whom suicide was associated with unemployment, according to a 2013 study. People who suffered hardship related to their house, finances, or job during the Great Recession had an increased risk of developing depression symptoms, anxiety, and problematic drug use for at least three years following it, according to a 2019 study. In more material ways, too, the burden of the recession has dragged on. Low-income families were more likely to suffer credit score losses during the recession, making it harder for them to recover financially, pay for their children’s education, and be prepared for future recessions, according to the Atlantic.

1. The Grandparents Get COVID-19

Adults age 65 and older are at the highest risk of severe complications from COVID-19. In the U.S., 8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths have been in this age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The risk is especially high for those in nursing homes. Workers and residents at long-term care facilities account for 41 percent of all COVID-19 deaths reported by states, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

You’re right to be worried about grandma and grandpa, especially if they have underlying health conditions. In fact, you should be worrying about them most of all. Do everything you can to keep them social distancing. Deliver groceries to their doorstep. Video call them with your kids so they don’t get lonely. Check in often and ask about symptoms. The grandparents were the clearest priority when we all jumped into this thing — that hasn’t changed one bit.