Students and school staff may be more ready than ever for winter break.
Districts across the country are reporting an increase in disruptive student behavior. Those who work with kids say all signs point to the COVID-19 pandemic and more free time on electronic devices.
Alma Lopez is a nationally-recognized middle school counselor in Livingston, California. She says student behavior started declining in mid-October.
"Rather than blame the student and give them this consequence, it was, hey, the data is saying that we're having a problem right now with language. So what are we, as the adults in the building, going to do?" Lopez said.
Lopez says the pandemic has had a different effect on every age group.
Some kids are experiencing peer-to-peer relationship issues. Other kids are experiencing development issues after missing out on critical in-person grade transitions.
Older kids have concerns about the future, and the data showed an increase in discipline for bad language.
Lopez says her school addressed the language issue right away.
"Really helping them to understand that language has meaning and has power," Lopez said. "Even at a young age with a developing brain, you've got to think about it."
Other districts report more serious incidents, like increases in fights, weapons on campus and mental health issues.
Lopez's district surveyed students and found seventh-graders had the toughest time with their feelings. Those students also reported increases in thoughts of self-harm.
Lopez says 25% of students followed up with one-on-one counseling.
Lopez also credits improved behavior to following an evidence-based curriculum for social and emotional learning and anti-violence.
"Those include lessons about working in groups and cooperation, bullying prevention, harassment awareness, building empathy, problem-solving — both the soft skills that are needed to be successful, but then also, those skills that are needed to really thrive in the current pandemic, because that's what we want," Lopez said. "We don't want to just survive it, we want our students to be thriving. We want to be thriving."
Lopez encourages parents to remove electronic devices from kids' bedrooms. She also says parents should reach out to school counselors as well as church or community resources if they notice any concerning behavior changes with their children.