Our children may not be well


ALBANY – A few days ago we saw the latest episode in a long series that we might call “Parents Behaving Badly.”

After a state Supreme Court judge declared the state’s mask requirement unconstitutional, a few parents responded by harassing teachers and administrators who continued, under instructions from the Department of Education of state, to enforce mask requirements for children. (An appeals court quickly reinstated the rule.)

The parents were dopes, of course. We can hopefully agree that abusing teachers is beyond pale and a terrible example to observe children on the importance of decency and civility.

But a few thugs shouldn’t mask the concerns of more responsible parents about the costs imposed on children by the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to combat it. In conversations I have with other parents at football games, birthday parties, and other events, exasperation with at least some of what kids are going through is nearly universal.

The concern is based, at least in part, on the justifiable sense that children carry a heavier burden than adults under pandemic restrictions.

Consider, if you will, the phenomenon of the silent lunch. In many schools, lunch is the only time of day children are allowed to remove their masks. As a result, some schools are banning students from talking while eating at their socially distanced offices. In some classrooms, a television blares to occupy the children.

Okay, kids like to watch TV. But you probably remember lunch as a time of release and socialization, and you may wonder about the impact of those silent lunches. From this adult’s perspective, they seem terribly depressing.

And compare these scenes to what you’d find in any bar or restaurant, where, according to New York State guidelines, unmasked adults can eat, drink and have fun while seated, regardless their vaccination status. Children live under a very strict set of rules, although they are much less exposed to the virus, while adults mostly live their lives.

This is not the only glaring discrepancy. Many schools, for another example, require children to wear masks even when they are outside for recess. But turn on your TV and you can find 70,000 mostly unmasked adults stuck in a football stadium, hugging and screaming at the top of their voices.

Does that seem fair to you? Does the gap make sense?

I don’t want to delve into whether school mask mandates, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have any tangible effect on the spread of the virus or provide meaningful benefits to vaccinated teachers. But it should be noted that there is ongoing debates on the subject and that the CDC’s view is not universal.

The World Health Organization advise that children under 5 “should not be required to wear masks”, says masking mandates for older children must be weighed against “the potential impact of wearing a mask on the ‘learning and psychosocial development’, and explicitly recommends that children not wear masks during physical activities, including time spent on the playground.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, meanwhile, do not recommend the use of face masks for children in primary schools, which helps explain why such requirements have been less common in countries across the pond, even in countries that have otherwise adopted measures difficult to contain the virus.

But let’s leave mask requirements aside to consider the broader impact of the pandemic on children. If many parents worry that this will have lasting consequences, well, they probably should be.

Last month, US Surgeon General Vivek Murphy released a 53-page report intended to an urgent call to action for a national emergency of mental health problems in children. Young people’s psychological stress, the report notes, has increased, with a third of high school students now reporting lingering sadness or hopelessness.

Even more alarming is that ER visits in early 2021 for suspected suicide attempts were up 51% among teenage girls compared to the same time in 2019. Other statistics in the report also suggest that many of our children have problems.

“The unfathomable pandemic-era death toll, pervasive sense of fear, economic instability and forced physical distancing from loved ones, friends and communities have exacerbated the unprecedented stress young people were already under. faced,” Murphy wrote. “It would be a tragedy if we postpone one public health crisis only to allow another to develop in its place.”

It certainly would. But tellingly, Murphy’s alarm received little media or political attention. Nor did the report lead to a reconsideration of sad sights such as those silent lunches or serious consideration of the costs to children who never see their teachers and classmates smile.

Thank goodness most children who contract COVID-19 recover quickly. But we have to worry that the pandemic is nonetheless causing lasting harm to many of our children.

[email protected] ■ 518-454-5442 ■ @chris_churchill

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