Is Face Mask Wearing Harmful to Children's Development? Experts Sound Off

Photo: (Photo : INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images)

The debate surrounding face mask-wearing and children's development has become a divisive issue for many parents. Some believe that a face mask mandate, especially for younger children in school, may interfere with their learning experience.

Child Emotion Lab expert Ashley Ruba told CNN that school children in their early years of development are in such a crucial stage. They have to learn some language and facial cues to figure out tasks, emotions, and other things about their environment.

Many parents worry that the critical phase wherein a child can develop empathy or safety, among other things, could be impaired with a face mask. However, before the pandemic, a study done in 2012 determined that children under nine years old are keen observers of facial cues in the eyes, whether the person they are talking to has a face covering or none.

Bouncing off on this study, Ruba also researched 80 school children who were shown photos of people with clear and obstructed faces and asked the kids if they could tell which expression showed anger, fear, and sadness. The study revealed that the children could correctly identify the emotion for photos with uncovered faces 66 percent of the time. While they struggled to match the emotions to the mask-covered faces, their odds of correctly guessing the images were 17 percent higher than expected.

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"Even with a mask covering the nose and mouth, the kids were able to identify these emotions at a rate better than chance," Ruba said.

Other experts believe that children will easily overcome and recover from the impact of wearing a face mask. They also said that the risks would be higher and deadlier for catching a virus when the kids go out unprotected or uncovered.

Considering Universal Mask Mandates

It comes as President Joe Biden is examining a universal face mask mandate at all public schools in the U.S., which will essentially override the face mask ban set by some state governors, as in Texas and Florida.

In a press conference, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suggested that he withhold the salary of public school officials who make face masks mandatory. He said that it's up to the parents to make this call for their kids. The governor also agreed with one psychiatrist who said that forcing children to wear a face-covering is tantamount to child abuse.

In Texas, the Supreme Court upheld Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order that barred school districts from requiring face masks. Abbot reiterated anyone who wants to wear a mask could do so, including in schools, but it should not be required of the people.

Low Oxygen, Breathing Concerns

Apart from the learning impairments, some parents are also concerned that their kids will develop breathing issues or receive low oxygen if they wear face masks for at least six to eight hours a day. However, Dr. David G. Hill of the American Lung Association debunked such allegations as all doctors wear masks all day at hospitals. He added that this protective gear is designed to be breathable.

"There is no evidence that low oxygen levels occur," Hill said. 

A study stating that children wearing a face mask experience breathing challenges was retracted by JAMA Pediatrics.

Related ArticleOklahoma School Board Member Says Sorry for Saying Kids Will' Murder Each Other' Without Face Masks

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