The pandemic in America is entering its second year, and while vaccines are now being distributed, we don’t appear to be getting back to normalcy in the immediate future. This has been a tough time for all of us, but kids may be the most impacted. For adults, work disruptions, lost wages, and many of the other negative consequences experienced have certainly been challenging, but kids are (and have been) missing out on countless significant developmental life experiences — many that can never be experienced again.
As a clinician providing mental health support to student athletes, I have had the great fortune of learning how kids have responded and coped with the pandemic. Like the rest of us, most kids were shocked and confused at how quickly things went from normal to lock-down in 2020, and they were left to quickly scramble and make the best of their new online learning. After the immediate change in schooling (from live to virtual), kids later experienced new social challenges and obstacles that began occurring on a regular basis, including the following concerns that have been shared with me directly:
- Student athletes experienced a shut down of their season, in many cases literally overnight
- Student extra-curricular activities ended
- Interpersonal relationship changes, from regularly seeing each other in-person to maintaining relationships through virtual means
- Fewer adult teachers and administrators keeping an eye on things, especially as it applies to vulnerable kids not coping so well with the pandemic
- More isolation, and few opportunities to simply be around groups of people
- Missed rites of passage experiences, including school dances and commencement
- Lost opportunities to interact with school officials who, under normal conditions, help kids directly with college/career future planning
- Frustration over the situation, loss of social interactions, and challenges around online learning and new modes of instruction (including glitches and technology break downs, often occurring with no immediate support available)
I have learned that it is easy for parents to overlook and/or lose sight of the obstacles kids face in this moment, or minimize these concerns because their own current challenges are equally difficult (i.e. being furloughed form a job). The reality is that these times are difficult for all of us, but we may want to pay special attention to kids who will not be able to simply go back and live experiences that once gone, are gone forever.
Social issues & concerns
Many kids have talked to me about the compromises being made with respect to their new online learning versus traditional classroom experiences, specifically mentioning how the daily free blocks of time leave them vulnerable to mood shifts. As tough as that has been, it appears that the loss in social interactions may be an even bigger concern, and the root cause of most of the anxiety and depression being seen in kids across America in this moment. While seemingly trivial to some, there is great importance seeing and hanging out with friends as kids develop, in some ways equal or more important than some of the education being learned in the class. Aside from simply having fun with one another, kids learn interpersonal communication skills, including how to work together, cooperate, encourage, and keep group spirits high. Kids develop confidence and self-esteem from one another, and learn how to work through problems by sitting down (in person) and talking.
All of these developmental experiences are very important, but easily missed as they are not evaluated on a traditional grade card.
Kids are going through a lot right now, but it’s easy for us to miss their struggles either because of our own current challenges, and/or because social disruptions are less observable and consequently looked at as less important. Often kids don’t recognize the impact lacking social interaction has on development, and therefore don’t speak out when they are struggling and need more attention. Parents, including the most dedicated and devoted, can also miss otherwise obvious signs because they have their own current challenges — including employment changes and COVID complications when family members suffer. If you find the issues discussed here impacting your family, consider community mental health options to help manage these challenging times.