Valley psychologist discusses impact of masks on children

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Masks being required at school is a debate dividing parents all over the country.

"Do what you've got to do. The masks need to happen," said parent Omari Jones.

"They're literally being trapped in a mask," said parent Sara Gray.

But how are masks impacting children psychologically?

Dr. Susan Napolitano says it's still too early to tell.

"I think the verdict is not going to be out for quite some time," said Napolitano.

Napolitano is a psychologist with more than 30 years of experience. She's spent many of those years focusing on children and families.

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She says the severity of the impacts will come down to age and development.

"I don't have any reason to believe that this is going to have serious long-term effects for children five and older," she said.

Once masks come off, older kids will be able to catch up with to where they should be socially with relative ease.

She says she's more concerned about children younger than five.

"Not only will masks interfere with a child's ability to read the facial expressions of another, it's going to interfere with another's ability to read the facial experiences of the young child," said Napolitano.

Parents should also realize some of the issues surrounding social and psychological development are more deep-rooted than masks.

"There's no reason to think that the mask problem is any more significant than the phone problem, in terms of robbing children of face-to-face interactions with human people while listening to their actual live voice," she said.

Beyond the rules surrounding masks, there are also concerns about children - especially teens - who may be dealing with insecurities.

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"On the other side of the spectrum, we're going to have some children who start to feel more comfortable in a mask because they feel a need to hide," she said.

Napolitano says parents should pay attention to if their child is expressing behavior like that -- and find ways to help them build up confidence.

Health experts say masks significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19.
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