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Differences between local middle school masking requirements and their psychological impact

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 5:40 PM CDT
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DE PERE, Wis. (WBAY) - Recently, we’ve been following how different school districts are setting various face mask requirements. Middle school is where it can be especially tricky.

For example, in the Green Bay Area Public School District, everyone must wear a mask indoors. While in the Unified School District of De Pere, face masks are required for students up to sixth grade but only encouraged for students seventh grade and up.

We spoke with health experts and school administrators about the potential psychological effect of students either wearing or not wearing masks and making their peers feel different in the process.

Medical professionals emphasized that around the ages of 12 and 13 most kids don’t want to be seen as different. Whether that’s how they dress or if they’re the tallest or smallest in their class. Differences that De Pere Middle School might see when one friend is wearing a mask and another is not. Yet, their principal is emphasizing respect and resilience for the new school year.

“They’re very adapt and have adapted really well,” Adam Kraemer, principal at De Pere Middle School, said. “Sometimes, I think students and kids at this age do a lot better job of being flexible than sometimes adults do.”

Parents have already voiced concerns about making their kids wear masks if few others are. Some advice for parents in that situation from Prevea Health licensed marriage and family therapist Lisa Tutskey is to use it as an opportunity to discuss the importance of how your actions can have an effect on others.

“That is the fear I think a lot of parents have is why should my child... should I make them wear a mask when nobody else is?” Tutskey said. “It’s teaching them that being different is okay. Being different isn’t always bad. We can always as parents let our kids use us as an excuse. That excuse is, if I don’t wear my mask and my mom finds out, I’m in huge trouble.”

“They see their friends and they don’t care whether or not they’re wearing a mask or not,” Kraemer shared. “To them, it’s kind of just another piece of clothing that they’re wearing around.”

Most middle schoolers are at the age of 12+ where the CDC recommends a COVID-19 vaccine. A distinction between the 4K to six grade group in De Pere who are all required to wear mask. As are the staff and visitors who are in the 4K to six grade buildings.

When it comes to being a middle schooler, “it is a difficult time to be different,” Dr. Jennifer Frank, ThedaCare chief medical officer, said. “Certainly, if you’re the only one wearing a mask that is another way you are different. But, it’s a great time to talk to kids about why we make choices that are sometimes individual choices that just reflect our values and why it’s important to be an independent thinker.”

Dr. Frank also emphasized that humans at any age are social creatures. However, in middle school, doctors have seen a phenomenon where children start to seperate even more from their parents and being to look to their friends to help define who they are.

Tutskey highlighted that once children enter middle school, they begin to understand how their actions can have an effect on others. A shared hope of health experts is to continue reinforcing why we mask: to keep our friends, family and community safe. An understanding that will hopefully reduce the peer pressure students may face this school year.

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