A parent’s perspective
Lisa Brody’s in-depth article on teen suicide (April/Downtown) could not be more timely. The teen mental health crisis pre-pandemic was dangerous and disturbing, and the lockdown came and exacerbated the situation.
The complete lockdown of schools and businesses in March 2020 was a reasonable starting point as a response to the pandemic based on the science we had at that time. However, what began as a school closure for maybe 2-3 weeks has continued on for a year. A year has been too long. Parents know this. Doctors know this. The American Academy of Pediatric put out a statement January 5, 2021 saying “Children absolutely need to return to in-person learning for their healthy development and well-being…”
The loss of a year of in-person education has been tremendous. In addition to education, kids have suffered every day losses like social interaction, small talk, making eye contact, participating in student council or yearbook committee. Playing in high school band or orchestra. Participating in athletics, basketball or football team. Meeting new friends. Having relationships with adults they need and trust – coaches, teachers and counselors.
Schools are closed. Other businesses are open. As a parent of a teen this has been one of the greatest points of tension during the pandemic. Many parents have spent the last year doing a risk/reward, cost/benefit analysis of the danger of coronavirus vs. the mental health of their kids. And they do this activity by activity.
It works this way: My son is 17 years old and wants to meet a group of about 15 adults, various ages, masked, at the gym to play basketball in the evenings. He asks me if this is OK. I have made the decision that for the benefit of his mental and physical health, for the purpose of giving him something to look forward to in the evenings, a break from being on Zoom all day at school, the opportunity for some daily structure; he does his homework before basketball and has dinner after is worth the risk. But I’m not always comfortable with it. Even saying yes, the decision has been riddled with anxiety.
It is no wonder why kids are frustrated and angry and parents are exhausted and everyone is anxious.
All of us are worried about the kids. And many of the kids I am referring to are the lucky ones. They have a roof over their heads, most have a quiet bedroom to study in, access to all the wi-fi they want, endless deliveries from Door Dash and parents who are largely not at risk of losing their jobs as they can do them virtually. And they are still struggling.
The kids need us. They need the adults in the room to care about their mental health and keep pushing forward for them. As we become vaccinated and our lives become post-pandemic, teens need to know they and their mental health are at the top of society’s priority list.