Why some parents lied about their children’s COVID status: “I wanted my child’s life to feel normal”

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Some U.S. parents were not honest about their children’s coronavirus symptoms, quarantine measures and testing guidelines, potentially contributing to viral spread, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Monday. 

The study, which was conducted by researchers in the U.S. and England, aimed to examine “the prevalence of misrepresentations of and nonadherence to COVID-19–related [public health measures] by parents regarding their children, their reasons, and associations of individual characteristics with these behaviors.”

Over 1,700 U.S. adults were sampled in the study over the course of December 2021, as Omicron variant rates skyrocketed across the country, including 580 parents who had children younger than 18 years old living with them throughout the pandemic. Seventy percent of the respondents were women, and all participants were recruited online.

A quarter of parents reported “misrepresentation of and nonadherence to COVID-19 recommendations” in at least 1 of 7 COVID-related behaviors, which pertained to exposure, quarantine, vaccination and testing.

Among the many reasons parents gave for the most popular was “I wanted to exercise my freedom to do what I want with my child,” followed by “My child did not feel very sick” and “I wanted my child’s life to feel ‘normal.'”

Others did not want their child to miss school, or they could not miss work to stay home and provide care, while others expressed concern that they or their child could experience judgment from others.

“These results suggest that some [public health measures] implemented to limit the spread of COVID-19 may have been compromised due to misrepresentation and nonadherence by parents on behalf of their children, contributing to COVID-19–related morbidity and mortality,” said the study. 

“Our findings suggest a serious public health challenge in the immediate context of the COVID-19 pandemic, including future waves affecting weary parents, as well as future infectious disease outbreaks,” the study continued, acknowledging that further work is needed to identify which groups are more likely to misrepresent COVID status, and to subsequently adopt support mechanisms for parents to make nonadherence less likely.

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