Do face masks worn to prevent coronavirus cause psychological problems or pose any danger to children? The answer is absolutely—NO!
Dr. Jim Versalovic, interim pediatrician-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, the nation’s largest pediatric hospital, stated that the number of young people being treated for Covid 19 is at an “all-time high.” “It is spreading like wildfire across our communities.” He went on to say that during the last month his hospital staff has diagnosed 200 children with Covid-19 in one day.
Is misinformation harmful?
Because of social media, we are swimming in a sea of misinformation, mistrust, and, in many cases, out-and-out lies. As a parent or teacher, you must analyze and evaluate every single comment that you read, hear, or see on video.
My advice: turn to the experts.
Look at the source’s credentials. In all of my writing, I always tell you if someone is an expert in their field. I also give you a link directly to the source. Check the credentials; check the links. Don't take the word of someone who just happens to post on social media. As I tell my students, a 5-year-old can post on the Internet if they know how to spell the words and work the computer.
Do not believe everything on social media. For today's post, I want to look at the danger of misinformation. I want to look at an example of good information about masks on the Internet and an example of bad misinformation about masks on the Internet. Let's tackle our first question.
Our First Question: Do masks cause psychological harm?
When we say that something causes psychological harm, this means that it impairs a person’s mental development and well-being. For example, rude, hateful words can cause psychological harm. Bullying can cause psychological harm. Teasing can cause psychological harm. Mass school shootings can cause psychological harm. Reading failure can cause psychological harm. That's why I became involved as a psychologist in developing programs to help children overcome reading failure. My goal is to stop the psychological harm caused by reading failure. So, our question for today is--Do masks cause psychological harm?
What do the experts say?
The experts say that masks do not cause psychological harm. For example, Vanessa LoBue, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist who works with children and specializes in emotion, says that parents often ask whether wearing a face mask all day at school will get in the way of a child's “emotional learning and their ability to understand and respond to the emotions of others.” Her answer is NO. As said earlier, this is an example of an expert who knows what she is talking about. You can trust what she says.
Her article is excellent and easy-to-read, and I encourage you to read the article.
We never want to go with just one source, and Dr. LoBue is not the only psychologist giving sound advice about wearing masks. Dr. Josh Klapow, a licensed clinical psychologist, also says that there is no reason to think that masks cause psychological harm to children. He explains:
“There is no evidence that masking up causes psychological damage or problems in children….”
Dr. Klapow goes on to say that if you're seeing irritation, upset feelings about wearing a mask, or even distractive behavior, there may be any number of causes. They may even be modeling the behavior they have seen from the adults around them. As Klapow explains, most of what drives children’s behavior “…has everything to do with what adults are modeling.”
Another expert, Ashley L. Ruba, Ph.D. studies social interactions with children. She and her colleague, Dr. Seth D. Pollak, Ph. D, who specializes in inclusion and diversity published a research article studying exactly how much children could infer from others when they were wearing a mask. They are both members of the Department of Psychology and Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin—Madison
From their research, Ruba and Pollak did not discover any psychological harms when children wore masks. Their conclusion was:
“… masks are unlikely to dramatically impair children’s social interactions….”
They explain their conclusion by stating:
“… children’s emotion inferences about faces that wore masks compared to when faces were not covered were still above chance. …children may reasonably infer whether someone wearing a mask is sad or angry, based on the eye region alone. In addition, children’s accuracy with masked facial configurations did not significantly differ from their accuracy with facial configurations that wore sunglasses—a common accessory that children encounter in their everyday lives. Thus, it appears that masks do not negatively impact children’s emotional inferences…. In sum, children’s ability to infer and respond to another person’s emotion, and their resulting social interactions, may not be dramatically impaired by mask wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic….”
So, I have presented four psychologists who are experts in their field and who clearly state that wearing a face mask at school does not cause psychological damage.
We need to remember that school is not the only place where children see faces. Parents, family, friends, and others who it is safe to be around without a mask also contribute to a child’s ability to interpret facial emotions. Furthermore, children talk on the telephone without facial cues and yet communicate just fine. We are not talking about wearing masks forever. We just want to keep children safe during the pandemic.
We should also remember that faces are not the only way for children to interpret emotions. Voice, body language, and the words you use also express emotion. As the researchers pointed out, we express emotion with our eyes. If you are smiling behind a mask, your eyes reflect that smile.
The research article from Ruba and Pollak is an excellent example of an actual scientific research article. I mention this because later I'm going to contrast this with an article that is not; so I want to show readers how to recognize the difference between good and bad research. Just tacking the name “science” onto an article does not make it scientific or an example of “scientific research.” Remember, we want to protect our children; therefore, we want to search for the very best information we can find.
Our Second Question: Do masks cause medical harm?
No, masks do not cause medical harm. We started with two issues—psychological and medical harm. I want to present experts in each area. On social media, we often hear that masks cause medical harms to children. There are many people claiming this harm, but again, there is no evidence proving any harms from wearing a mask. To answer this question, let’s turn to a group of medical experts.
First, there is a very good blog called Mask Mythbusters. This is a current blog, last updated on August 5, 2021. It is important always to check the date. Since the Delta variant has changed the threat of coronavirus for children, we need information about what is happening this year, not last year. The Delta variant has changed the coronavirus pandemic, and we must change with it. We can no longer say, “well, last year they were okay.” This fall, we're fighting a new disease, a strand of coronavirus that is easier to catch and easier to transmit to others.
Let's look at a good social media site.
Healthychildren.org, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, contains information written by highly qualified people. Dr. Kimberly W. Dickinson, M. D. is a pediatric pulmonary fellow at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. That means that she works with children who have breathing problems. She and Dr. Teresa W. Guilbert, M. D., a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati and Director of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Asthma Center have taken the time to answer questions for parents. Dr. Guilbert has 20 years of experience providing clinical care to children and adolescents with severe asthma. She also conducts clinical and epidemiologic research (study of diseases) with children. These are not two people simply posting a blog about their opinions because they have nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon. These are medical doctors, experts in the field of working with children and youth who have breathing problems. Dr. Dickinson and Dr. Guilbert give excellent answers to the questions many parents are asking about masks.
Let's see what Dr. Dickinson and Dr. Guilbert have to say in "Mask Mythbusters." They list typical parental question or concern, and then give an answer. I will only give a brief summary, but I highly encourage you to read the entire page. Here are their answers to key questions:
Can wearing a mask make it harder for my child to breathe?
“The vast majority of children aged two or older can safely wear face masks for extended periods of time, such as the school day or at child care. This includes children with many medical conditions.”
Can masks interfere with a child's lung development?
“No, wearing a face mask will not affect your child's lungs from developing normally.”
Do masks trap the carbon dioxide that we normally breathe out?
“No. There have been false reports that face masks can lead to carbon dioxide poisoning (known as hypercapnia) from re-breathing the air we normally breathe out. But this is not true.”
Can masks lead to a weaker immune system by putting the body under stress?
How do masks prevent the spread of COVID-19?
“When worn correctly, face masks create a barrier that reduces the spray of a person's spit and respiratory droplets.”
Another question often asked is:
Do Masks Delay Speech and Language Development?
Healthychildren.org also answers this question.
“There is no evidence that use of face masks prevents or delays speech and language development.”
Since wearing a mask all day at school does not cause psychological harm or medical harm, where is all this talk of harm coming from? There are many misinformed sources, but I want to focus on just one to make my point.
An Example of a Bad Research Site
Let’s look at how poor research could misinform people
Writing for Principia Scientific International on February 15, 2021, Reagan Hall stated: “New Study Finds Covid Masks Harm Children’s Physical And Mental Health.”
Yet, if you go to this new study that she claims provides evidence of these harms, you will quickly find that she has distorted the evidence. Let’s go to the actual research article that she is talking about.
First, the title of the research article is: “Corona Children Studies "Co-Ki": First Results of A Germany-Wide Registry On Mouth And Nose Covering (Mask) In Children.”
Notice the difference between the two titles. Ms. Hall claims the study found masks to be harmful. The authors of the study state that this is simply an opinion survey. A list of opinions is very different from actual scientific proof.
How was this study distorted and misinterpreted?
If we look at the actual article that Reagan Hall cites, the second thing that we must notice is that this is not a peer-reviewed published article. The previous cited study from Ruba and Pollak was peer reviewed. Peer review means that experts have examined the research and determined that the study provides a correct analysis of the situation being studied. This is important for parents, teachers, and the general community. If you are not a trained researcher, reading only peer reviewed articles will ensure that you are reading quality material and not just a bunch of opinions that may or may not be true. For example, look what the editors say in bold print, not just once but in two separate places at the top of the article that Ms. Hall cites:
“This is a preprint, a preliminary version of a manuscript that has not completed peer review at a journal…. The posting of a preprint on this server should not be interpreted as an endorsement of its validity or suitability for dissemination as established information or for guiding clinical practice.”
“Due to multiple limitations, this study cannot demonstrate a causal relationship between mask wearing and the reported adverse effects in children.”
In other words, this is a list of complaints by parents who do not like masks, but the survey cannot be considered scientific proof because the study has too many problems or limitations.
What are research limitations?
When you use the word limitations in a scientific study, it means that there were aspects of the research that keep the study from making a statement that would be true for all people. The results are only true for the specific individuals who responded to the survey.
What problems did the editors find in this study?
- The survey was not “equally accessible” to all groups. This means that only certain people responded to the survey; therefore, the results of the survey cannot be considered true of everyone. It is just the opinions of a few people.
- There was no control group. This causes the study to be biased. In other words, the survey did not ask questions of parents with children who were not wearing masks to see if they also were sleepy or drowsy in the afternoon at school. I have frequently worked with children who are drowsy or sleepy in the afternoon, even before the coronavirus ever existed.
- The reports were all made by parents, not the children. The report does not record the parents not making a complaint. In other words, if I have a negative opinion about masks and you are doing a survey, then I will be more likely to respond and tell you that I do not like masks than someone who does not object to masks. Trust me, it’s human nature, we are always eager to complain.
Why is this important?
Okay, you may be saying, I don’t care about research; I just want to know are the problems real. Are these actual problems I should be concerned about with my child? There is absolutely no scientific proof that masks cause any of the problems described in this article and certainly not psychological harm. Look at what the authors of the article even said in their report:
“It is very important to us that our results do not lead to parents developing a fundamentally negative opinion of mask-wearing among children. Many children and adolescents are grateful that they can continue to attend school … and would like adults to have a positive opinion about the masks, especially since the type of mask worn can usually be chosen.”
So, even the study’s authors do not claim that their study shows definite harms from wearing masks. Ms. Hall has completely and totally distorted what the report says.
Why is it dangerous when this type of misrepresentation of the truth appears on the Internet?
This study is being used by many people--misinterpreted yes--but used as an example of “scientific research” that says masks are harmful. There is absolutely no proof that masks cause problems of any kind.
You may be saying, okay, so this is a weak study that has led to a harmful article written by Reagan Hall. Why are you so riled up about this particular article? Well, there are zillions of weak studies popping up on the Internet every single day and they prove absolutely nothing. Why is Reagan Hall’s article so dangerous? Because of two statements made at the end of the article:
“Please DONATE TODAY To Help Our Non-Profit Mission To Defend The Scientific Method.”
“Please Donate Below To Support Our Ongoing Work To Expose The Lies About COVID19.”
- Real scientists do not put pleas for donations at the end of their opinion statements. Scientists seek financial support like everyone else, but they usually apply for grants. They do not beg for donations on the Internet.
- The research article that she cites does not properly use the scientific method; therefore, it cannot be called scientific research. If this is Ms. Hall’s interpretation of scientific research and proper use of the scientific method, I suggest you stay away from her work.
- Ms. Hall seeks donations “to expose the lies about Covid 19.” Yet, her very article distorted, misrepresented, and to use her word, “lied” about the research she cited. I personally plan to stay far away from Ms. Hall and her Principia Scientific International. As a psychologist and research scientist myself, I do not appreciate people using the name “science” to try and make their opinions sound legitimate when they are not.
Listen to the experts, not the gossip on social media.
Yes, there is actually good information available to you through social media, but you have to know where to look and you must evaluate what you read. Here on my blog, I have always tried to give you the best research that I can find. As a research psychologist, I have been trained to evaluate the quality of a research article. I strive to give you the benefit of my training whenever I write. For example, each of the psychologists listed above can be found on social media. There are also excellent, easy to read, scientific-based websites that offer factual information for parents and teachers. These are sites you can turn to on your own. For the health and safety of children, try to find the best, truthful information possible.
Why do we need masks mandates in schools?
If you are reading news articles, reports or even research from 2020, the information you are reading is no longer correct. The Delta variant has changed the coronavirus that children are facing today. You can no longer say that “children are not really affected,” because yes, children are definitely getting sick and even dying from the Delta variant.
At present, no scientific proof shows masks cause harms when children wear them at school. We do have rock-solid evidence that children are catching coronavirus (because of the Delta variant) in far greater numbers than last year. Children ages 12 and under are not yet eligible for the vaccine. The only protection these children have is for everyone, teachers, staff, parents, helpers, and all students to wear masks all day at school.
Dr. Jim Versalovic, interim pediatrician- in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, the nation’s largest pediatric hospital, stated that the number of young people being treated for Covid 19 is at an “all-time high.” “It is spreading like wildfire across our communities.” He went on to say that during the last month his hospital staff has diagnosed 200 children with Covid-19 in one day.
As several experts have warned, we need to “hit the reset button.” We need to realize that we are dealing with a new strand of the virus. We need to stop listening to “lies.” We need to turn to the experts, listen to “true facts” not angry threats and made-up opinions. The children are depending on adults to help keep them safe. We must not play politics with children’s lives. We must act like adults and make wise, informed, life-saving decisions.
The experts are saying:
- “After declining in early summer, child cases have ‘steadily increased’ since the beginning of July. From August 5 to August 12, a total of 121,427 child cases were reported….” (from the American Academy of Pediatrics)
- "This Delta variant is just so incredibly contagious that lots of the kids are getting exposed, getting infected. And some of them are getting really quite ill in the hospital, in intensive care units. And sadly, we are seeing kids die from this." (Virus expert Dr. Francis Collins)
- “… with the highly contagious delta variant spreading across the U.S., children are filling hospital intensive care beds instead of classrooms in record numbers, more even than at the height of the pandemic.” (AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner)
- "More than 400 children have died of COVID-19. And right now we have almost 2,000 kids in the hospital. Many of them in ICU, some of them under the age of four. So anybody who tries to tell you, 'Well, don't worry about the kids. That virus won't really bother them.' That's not the evidence. And especially with Delta being so contagious kids are very seriously at risk and it's up to all of us to do everything we can to protect them…." (Dr. Francis Collins)
The evidence says that children are definitely in danger with the Delta variant. With schools opening every day, we need to do everything we can to protect our children. We need vaccine mandates for everyone who is eligible at school, staff included, even the custodian and bus driver. We also need mask mandates. We need everyone in the school building, even if you’re just visiting, wearing a mask.
Dr. Mark Kline, physician-in-chief of Children’s Hospital New Orleans, points out that the Delta variant has completely changed the precautions that we need to take to keep children safe:
“This virus that we’re dealing with now is a game changer, and it’s just so easily transmitted from person-to-person that this could truly catalyze an explosion of cases across the region…. I think bringing together large numbers of children, congregating them in classrooms with masks being optional — or worse yet even, forbidden — is just a formula for disaster….” (Dr. Mark Kline of Children's Hospital New Orleans).
We do not have any evidence that says masks are harmful. We certainly do not have any evidence that masks cause any kind of psychological harm. We do have evidence that the Delta variant is very dangerous for children and is even killing children.
So, will you help the children and wear a mask?