For Sherri Shepherd, watching her 15-year-old son Jeffrey deal with the isolation he has felt from a year of remote learning has been “extremely difficult.”
“It has been absolutely detrimental to Jeffrey's mental health,” Shepherd says. “I've been very concerned because his socialization has just been taken from him … to watch my child kind of wither because … he has no friends coming over. He really hasn't been able to socialize with friends … you know, normal teenage things, he’s not able to do.”
Before the pandemic, Shepherd, host of the parenting podcast Two Funny Mamas, explains that Jeffrey loved “being in the middle of everything” and he was even taking improv classes “which he loved.” But Shepherd said that online classes are “not working” for Jeffrey and that as hard as she’s tried, it’s been “extremely difficult trying to keep his spirits up.”
After more than a year of being stuck at home, Shepherd said that it has had a negative impact on Jeffrey’s mental health and even caused him to become depressed.
“He was so depressed just being in his room, doing online schooling and never leaving the house…” Shepherd notes. “He came to me with that ball that has dog treats in it and the dog has to try and get the treat. And he said, ‘Mommy, I feel like that. I feel trapped. And I feel like I can’t get out.’ And that’s depression these kids are dealing with.”
While Shepherd made it clear that the most difficult part of parenting during a pandemic was seeing the impact it had on her son mentally, she also said that having her son at home all the time was extremely stressful for her as well. Because as much as online schooling is a burden for students, it’s a burden for parents, too.
“The second most difficult thing is I don't want him in my house,” Shepherd, who stars in the Netflix movie A Week Away, admits. “Do you understand me? I don't want him in my house. OK. Online schooling is not working for me.”
It’s a sentiment any parent who has had to deal with remote learning will relate to, as Shepherd hilariously complained about how she’s no longer able to walk around her kitchen in a “T-shirt with a taco stain on it” because her son might be in a Zoom class session. She even admitted to sometimes not having clothes on at all.
“I forget to put on clothes,” Shepherd says. “And then I got to hear him go, ‘Ma you don't have any clothes on.’ Okay. Well, this is my house and I pay bills. So I'm tired of the teachers calling me. I'm tired of the emails.”
But despite her frustration with remote learning, Shepherd also has anxiety with in-person schooling starting to return in many states, primarily because she worries that kids will have a difficult time taking the pandemic seriously.
My advice to parents that have children with special needs is to lean into them, really listen to them because they'll talk to you.
“I do have anxiety about Jeffrey returning to school, even though I know it's going to be good for him,” Shepherd says. These young kids, you know, youngsters don't think that anything will happen to them, which is why you're seeing all of these parties in different cities and states the kids with no masks on because it's just hard for you as a teenager to think you’re going to die.”
Shepherd says that while she is “hoping that the kids are responsible” and knows that teachers will do their best to keep students as safe as possible, it’s still a situation that lends itself to worrying because unlike her house, it’s not an environment that she can fully watch over.
“So it's a little bit of anxiety because that's a situation that I can not control because it's not in my house,” Shepherd says.
Along with the typical challenges that parents have felt during quarantine, Shepherd also has had the unique experience of her son having special needs, as Jeffrey was born with “developmental delays.” Shepherd offered her advice for any parents who have special needs children of their own.
“My advice to parents that have children with special needs is to lean into them, really listen to them because they'll talk to you,” Shepherd said. “They're going through difficult periods.”
Shepherd says that she knows the amount of stress Jeffrey has felt over the last year and that she has found one of the ways she can help him is by doing different activities with him.
“I know that he's stressed and sometimes they just need a hug and you to do something fun with them,” Shepherd explains. “So try doing some activities with them, roller skating, playing tennis, dancing, even though I have to make my son do it at the end of the day, he likes it.”
And Shepherd even offered some words of wisdom for parents of teenagers, telling them “don’t take it personally” when your kid may seem to get annoyed by everything you do.
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