Now that New Jersey schools are officially closed through the end of the 2019-20 academic year, students know that their next lesson in a classroom will not come until at least September.

For children who prefer to learn at their own pace and like the relative freedom of virtual instruction, that's likely just fine with them. But many others need structure, according to Dr. Steven Tobias, director of the Center for Child & Family Development in Morristown.

And Tobias said that doesn't just pertain to kids with learning or attention issues, but also most teenagers who thrive on socializing with classmates and friends.

Those social aspects of regular school life have the potential to be distracting, Tobias acknowledged, but in general they promote a sense of belonging and security, contributing to an overall positive environment.

"We're social beings; we're meant to be with other people, and certainly it's the social distancing aspect of this that I think is creating the greatest stress," he said.

Looking at the bigger picture, Tobias said kids who were handling the weight of coronavirus-related panic well while still in school are probably doing OK, even two months later.

As far as high school seniors are concerned, he predicts the likely loss of special events like prom and graduation will stick with them for a long time — and he hopes it will shape their capacity for resilience and gratitude.

"Until you really experience a hardship and challenge, and cope with it and see that you can get through it, you never really develop that," Tobias said.

After all, he added, mostly everyone goes through those rites of passage. But to "mark history" and experience it directly, even while missing out on such hallmarks, makes the Class of 2020 unique.

Another potential plus, according to Tobias, is the increased amount of time families are spending together. It may be helpful to children to have everyone in their household focused on helping them cope and commiserate, as long as it's done in a productive way.

"I'm hopeful that actually, this is having a positive impact in terms of the connection between parents and their children, and really reinforcing and supporting the family dynamic," he said.

And if nothing else, the strange and unprecedented end to the school year provides an opportunity for a new perspective: a slower pace of life, an interest how the environment impacts us, and an increased emphasis on personal health.

Tobias hopes that kids "take a little time to reflect on the meaning of all this and how it impacts on their values, maybe helps them think about really what is important in life."

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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