“American children are starting 2022 in a crisis,” New York Times reporter David Leonhardt said.
His article, No Way to Grow Up, pub. Jan. 4, 2022, gives a heartbreaking summary of how pandemic restrictions’ have hurt children in the U.S. The devastating facts he reported are enough to make you sick.
“I have long been aware that the pandemic was upending children’s lives. But until I spent time pulling together data and reading reports, I did not understand just how alarming the situation had become,” Leonhardt said.
Here’s how the pandemic has hurt children over the last two years:
Children have not been getting the education they need to succeed in life. During the 2020-2021 school year, students from third to eighth grade achieved much lower math and reading scores than normal, according to research group NWEA. This was especially true among Black and Hispanic students as well as those from high poverty areas.
“We haven’t seen this kind of academic achievement crisis in living memory,” Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute told Politico.
Struggling with Mental Illness
The isolation and disruption caused by the pandemic have hurt children’s mental health so much that the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and two other medical groups declared it a national emergency on Oct. 19, 2021.
“We were concerned about children’s emotional and behavioral health even before the pandemic,” said AACAP President, Gabrielle A. Carlson, MD. “The ongoing public health emergency has made a bad situation worse. We are caring for young people with soaring rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality that will have lasting impacts on them, their families, their communities, and all of our futures.”
Because of the pandemic’s emotional toll, many children and adolescents have attempted suicide. From April to October 2020, the number of mental health emergency hospital visits increased by 24% for children ages 5-11 and 34% for children 12-17 years old. The number of E.R. visits for suspected suicide attempts by teenage girls rose by 51% from 2019 to 2021, as reported by the CDC.
Threatened with Gun Violence
As crime has increased in the U.S., so has the number of murdered children. In Chicago, 101 residents under 20 years old were killed in 2021 compared to 76 in 2019. And, children aren’t just being killed while quarantining at home. The Washington Post reported a record-breaking 42 school shootings in the U.S. last year, more than double the number of shootings in 2019.
Loneliness and Instability
Children have lost out on many opportunities to build friendships and develop social skills as classes, extracurricular activities, assemblies, and school trips became virtual or canceled, Leonhardt reports.
When he asked parents and teachers how the pandemic has impacted schools, he got an “outpouring of anguish.”
- “This is no way for children to grow up,” Jackie Irwin, a reader in Oklahoma, told Leonhardt. “It is maddening.”
- “For so many kids, school represents a safe, comfortable, reliable place, but not for nearly two years now,” Lisa Durstin of Strafford, Vermont, said.
- “A lot of the joy and camaraderie that signifies a happy, productive school culture has disappeared,” said Maria Menconi, a schools consultant and former superintendent based in Arizona.
Now children are being isolated again as schools cancel classes and extracurricular activities to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, Leonhardt reports.
“Some districts have closed schools, for a day or more, despite evidence that most children struggle to learn remotely, as my colleague Dana Goldstein reports. Closings are taking place in Atlanta, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Newark and several New York City suburbs, among other places,” Leonhardt said.
Keri Rodrigues, president of the National Parents Union, told the New York Times that the situation with schools is chaotic.
“The No. 1 thing that parents and families are crying out for is stability,” Rodrigues said.
What happens when children are deprived of social interaction and struggle with poor mental health? They act out, of course.
Teachers and schools across the U.S. are dealing with more behavioral problems than before the pandemic. Leonhardt quotes Kalyn Belsha from Chalkbeat as saying,
“Some are obvious and visible, like students trashing bathrooms, fighting over social media posts, or running out of classrooms. Others are quieter calls for help, like students putting their head down and refusing to talk.”
Kelli Tuttle, a teacher in Madison, Wis., told Leonhardt, “There is a lot of swearing, vandalism and some fights.” A teacher in Northern California said she witnessed the “meanest, most inappropriate comments to teachers” in her 15 years of working in schools.
Are School Closings and Restrictions Worth It?
Sometimes there are no easy answers and policymakers have to make tough decisions, Leonhardt admits. Many adults have died from COVID-19, especially the elderly and those with pre-existing health issues, and keeping schools open can put these adults at risk. Closing schools to slow the pandemic may have been justifiable in March 2020. But now it’s January 2022, and experts know more about how the virus affects children and how COVID restrictions are hurting them mentally and emotionally.
“Data now suggest that many changes to school routines are of questionable value in controlling the virus’s spread,” Leonhardt reports. “Some researchers are skeptical that school closures reduce COVID cases in most instances. Other interventions, like forcing students to sit apart from their friends at lunch, may also have little benefit.”
Leonhardt poses the ethical question: Should children suffer to protect unvaccinated adults who have accepted the risks of getting COVID-19? Right now the U.S. is saying yes, and children are paying the price.
Instead of putting adults first and children second, Leonhardt suggests communities try to decrease overall harm so students can thrive in a healthy and stable environment.
What You Can Do
While you may not have control over state and federal mandates, you can give students the tools to build resilience and cope with stress, anxiety, depression, and loss by implementing a life skills curriculum.
Studies Weekly Well-Being is a program for PK-6 students aligned with CASEL research, so students can learn proven coping skills and start to rebuild their self-confidence. The teacher edition comes with graphic organizers and lesson plans, allowing teachers more time to support children through this crisis.
The best part is Studies Weekly Well-Being qualifies for ESSER funding (read Use ESSER for Studies Weekly for more details).
Studies Weekly Well-Being does not include critical race theory.
Request a sample of Studies Weekly Well-Being at: studiesweekly.com/state-specific-samples/