COVID will have a lasting impact on our children
Updated: Sep 11, 2020
These are young people who have been traumatized by events beyond their control, sealed in their homes with little social contact and, in all likelihood, will experience lasting psychological effects Special to National Post & Avi Benlolo Publishing date: Sep 08, 2020 •
This fall, students will be returning to school with a changed perspective about the world around them. School officials have been busy working on plans for how to safely reopen schools, but have they given enough consideration to the transformative psychological and social impact the pandemic has had on our children and teens? Are educators prepared to confront a radically changed student cohort?
These are young people who have been traumatized by events beyond their control. They have been sealed in their homes with little social contact and, in all likelihood, will experience lasting psychological effects from the events of the past six months. They are being tasked with returning to some form of education — whether in class, online or some other form — while following strict health protocols: wear a mask all day; social distance from your friends; walk on the other side of the hallway; no extracurricular activities! These are kids who have been destabilized. They have seen their parents’ lives disrupted. People around them have fallen ill and perhaps died. They’ve faced fear, anxiety and depression. Given the newness of this disruption, psychologists are only now beginning to assess the pandemic’s true impact. One recent survey conducted by Harris Poll found that seven out of 10 teenagers were struggling with their mental health in some way. More than half said they experienced anxiety, 45 per cent said they felt excess stress and 43 per cent told pollsters that they have struggled with depression.
Children and teens are adaptable, but most experts argue that a stable environment and a predictable routine is healthiest for growth and development. Sadly, it is entirely possible that any routine established this fall will be disrupted by the coming second wave of the virus. Unless parents and educators speak to their children about this social volatility, they will feel hopeless about their future, about their dreams and aspirations.
Let’s not pretend that this return to school is business as usual. Our education system needs to address the psychological, and even socio-economic, needs of students. The curriculum itself must change to reflect these needs and the changed world in which we live.
As parents and educators, we should worry about our children’s loss of innocence. We are all witnesses to these same events, which are beyond our control. We see political scandal after scandal, as our leaders plainly deceive, conspire and make empty promises. We see rising racial tensions and violence in the United States, Canada and abroad. We try to hide our fear, our concern for our kids’ future (and ours), in order to protect and insulate them. But the shock and awe of this turmoil is wearing everyone down.
Still, socialization is healthier than isolation. A return to some form of normalcy is a welcome relief for most teachers, parents and students. At the same time, we all have the double burden of maintaining health and safety standards, while exhibiting care and compassion for our young people. We have one chance to seize this opportunity, to demonstrate to them that they matter. Let’s not let this moment pass us by.