Concerns about the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on children weigh heavily on the minds of many parents. Speaking for myself, those concerns literally keep me awake at night. Sadly, I doubt I’m alone in that experience. We worry about how the crisis affects our children’s learning, social development, and mental health. We worry about how our own stress and shortcomings may impact our kid’s wellbeing. And we remain acutely aware of small changes in the way our kids behave, how they express themselves, and other indicators of emotional wellness.
Jason Kahn, co-founder and chief scientific officer of the company Mightier, has noticed such changes in his son’s behavior since the first lockdown began. In a recent opinion piece, Kahn raised concerns that the pandemic’s emotional effects may also affect children’s physical health. To illustrate his point, he cited data gathered from Mightier’s kid’s behavioral health apps. This data represents an increase in the average heart rate of the app’s young users, which roughly aligns with the pandemic’s trajectory.
Mightier specializes in apps that use gamification and biofeedback technology to help kids practice self-calming exercises. The video games interface with a wearable heart monitor; as the user’s heart rate changes, the game’s difficulty increases. This trains the user to identify anger, frustration, and other challenging emotions. The user practices calming activities, such as deep breathing, and changes in the game reinforce their success with emotional regulation.
Kahn and his team reviewed data from around 17,000 users between July 2019 and July 2020. It demonstrates an increase in the average heart rate from 90 bpm to 92 bpm, resulting in about 2,000 extra heartbeats per day. Those numbers, which generally mirror the rise in COVID-19 cases since March, suggest that children are experiencing higher anxiety levels. The numbers may also indicate declining levels of physical fitness and an increased risk for specific health concerns.
Mightier’s apps could help kids learn how to reduce COVID-related stress. But children will benefit even more if the broader pediatric health community remains focused on mental health concerns and continues to implement a broad range of solutions. Most importantly, parents and caregivers should feel comfortable and supported when seeking ways to mitigate the emotional effects of COVID-19 on their young ones.