How financially disadvantaged families are helping their kids build resilience.
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How Socioeconomics May Impact COVID-19-Associated Stress in Youth

How financially disadvantaged families are helping their kids build resilience.
 Elizabeth Sowell, PhD
Elizabeth Sowell, PhD

Since the start of the pandemic, reports have emerged about the greater risk of infection, as well as prevalence and disease severity in economically disadvantaged communities. These communities are also more likely to suffer financial impacts related to the pandemic, such as job loss.

But now some good news—a new study from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles found that parents in disadvantaged communities are talking to their kids more about the risks associated with COVID-19, compared to parents in other communities. As a result, the young people are incorporating more disease-preventing behaviors, reducing stress for both themselves and their parents.

“Given what was being reported about some groups being harder hit by the pandemic, we wanted to find out how parents and adolescents in these communities were perceiving the threat and responding to it,” said Elizabeth Sowell, PhD, Children’s Hospital Site Principal Investigator of the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study (ABCD study), who specializes in the neurodevelopment of children and adolescents and was senior author on the study.

The ABCD study is a national study that has been following nearly 12,000 youth and parent participants for more than three years. When the pandemic began, the study was expanded to include questions about parent and adolescent experiences related to COVID-19. The current study included over 6,000 parent-youth pairs from 20 cities across the U.S. with the goal of determining how family- and neighborhood-level socioeconomic disadvantage related to disease burden, family communication and preventative responses to the pandemic.

The study findings were surprising.

“We were seeing individuals with lower household incomes and living in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods, as reported by census data, were more likely to talk to their kids about the need for wearing masks, washing hands and avoiding crowds,” said co-investigator Andrew Marshall, PhD, of the Division on Children, Youth and Families at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, who was first author on the study.

Andrew Marshall, PhD
Andrew Marshall, PhD

Adolescents from lower income families and neighborhoods had increased risk and diagnosis of COVID-19 because of being front-line workers, taking public transportation and other factors. Yet, because of better communication and risk-reduction behaviors—kids and parents in these families worried less than other families in the study who had higher incomes and lived in socioeconomically advantaged neighborhoods.

“We predicted that things would be worse for families with less resources,” said Dr Sowell. “But for risk-prevention behaviors and worry, that wasn’t true.”

According to the investigators, the biggest takeaway is that some communities are carrying a larger burden related to disease and natural disasters like the pandemic. In addition, although families are doing what they can to mitigate some of these effects, policies and programs are required to reduce disparities.

The ABCD study is supported by the National Institutes of Health.

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