My son told me that other day children must be protected at all costs during the pandemic - they are the future of this world. It was an interesting statement from a 12-year-old and allowed me to reflect on the cost of COVID-19 on the youth of today.
...deterioration in at least one of six domains of mental health (depression, anxiety, irritability, attention span, hyperactivity, and obsessions/compulsions) in 70.2% of youth aged 6 to 18.
A simple search on Google will highlight the dramatic impact of COVID on youth and mental health. Overall, rates of mental health challenges have increased dramatically for school-aged children. A study cited from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario reported deterioration in at least one of six domains of mental health (depression, anxiety, irritability, attention span, hyperactivity, and obsessions/compulsions) in 70.2% of youth aged 6 to 18. These rates were reported from April to June 2020. Individuals with pre-existing mental health comorbidities often fared worse. However, some fared better when the isolation of the pandemic initially allowed for less stress from socialization pressures and likely other factors endured during day to day living. However, for these individuals, those stressors will likely return when the world opens back up and they must re-integrate with others.
Have we forgotten that school is about more than academics? It is about socialization and peer development. Laughter. Collaboration. Structure and support. It is where our children thrive.
The next question then becomes - what can be done? Many would say that all public health measures must be taken to keep our schools open. Why? Because schools are where children learn best. But schools are about so much more than academics. Due to my own underlying health conditions, my children endured one year of online learning. I joined several Facebook pages during this time in which other parents with their children at home marvelled at the multiple benefits of online learning. As I would read these posts, I would often sit in wonder. Have we forgotten that school is about more than academics? It is about socialization and peer development. Laughter. Collaboration. Structure and support. It is where our children thrive. To convince ourselves of anything but is to deprive our children of valuable and irreplaceable opportunities. In this way, society can live up to the protection that my son believes we must always ascribe to.
Of course, school is not the place it used to be and youth are still more isolated than usual while we'll cope with this pandemic. This is a massive environmental change that most children have been through and will never experience again. If you are reading this as a parent, I believe there are things we can try to do. Talk to our children (in an age-appropriate way) about what is happening. Support healthy connections - often virtual outside of school. Provide youth with control over things that might seem trivial to us but might be very important to them in a world where so many things seem uncontrollable. Know that an adolescent experiences volatile emotions at the best of times and the pandemic is likely intensifying this developmental process. This will feel challenging for everyone. Be kind to yourself - as much as you can. Make sure everyone gets some fresh air. These sound like small things but they can work wonders.
...if you are reading this and reflecting on that, I have a hunch that you are doing the best that YOU can - and that is all anyone can ask for.
And, as a parent, know that you are doing the best you can. Most days that does not feel good. It is hard to do a great job at just about anything during a pandemic I think! But if you are reading this and reflecting on that, I have a hunch that you are doing the best that YOU can - and that is all anyone can ask for.
Some youth might require professional help now. If you are a parent or a youth yourself and are looking for someone to talk to, help is here. At Forward Thinking Psychological Services, we specialize in the treatment of OCD and related disorders as well as anxiety and depression. We also engage in parent coaching to help parents feel better equipped to guide their children through difficult times. Please reach out to us and we can help you to find the help you need to move forward and get things back on track!