The Kids Are Not Alright
A drastic increase in anxiety and depression is itself worrisome, but we’re not without hope.
Be afraid of everyone around you. In a grossly simplified nutshell, that sums up the message adults have been giving to children over the last two years of COVID-19. Social distancing, quarantines, masking, and vaccination — not to mention harshly judging people who come to different conclusions — are all things forced upon kids who just want to see faces and play with their friends. No wonder there’s a drastic uptick in anxiety disorders in American children.
The bigger picture is that this increase began years before anyone heard the word “coronavirus,” and thus the blame doesn’t all lie with the pandemic. But one doctor called it a “crisis on top of a crisis.”
Using data from the National Survey of Children’s Health, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) study published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics found that kids’ mental health has declined markedly in the last few years:
Between 2016 and 2020, there were significant increases in children’s diagnosed anxiety and depression, decreases in physical activity, and decreases in caregiver mental and emotional well-being and coping with parenting demands. After the onset of the pandemic specifically, there were significant year-over-year increases in children’s diagnosed behavioral or conduct problems, decreases in preventive medical care visits, increases in unmet health care needs, and increases in the proportion of young children whose parents quit, declined, or changed jobs because of child care problems.
Specifically, anxiety diagnoses grew 29% and depression 27% between 2016 and 2020. COVID made things worse, with a 21% increase in behavior or conduct problems in 2020.
This isn’t a simple, black-and-white issue, so we’ll make some very broad observations starting with but going beyond the pandemic.
Human emotions are incredibly complicated, and each of us responds to social settings and changes differently. By and large, kids are quite resilient, and they often handle big things better than adults do. Except when they don’t.
We doubt anyone has come out of the last two years unchanged in significant ways. In fact, we likely don’t even begin to understand all the ways health protocols have changed us, and that’s to say nothing of the asininity of some rules, the hypocrisy of political leaders, or the haranguing of your local Karen. Americans overall probably trust each other, our media, and our government far less than a few short (or is that long?) years ago.
So, what of our children? The problem is far greater and older than the current virus. Over the last couple of decades, faith has declined greatly, as more Americans claim no religion and no longer attend worship services. That’s far more important than merely the niceties of Sunday morning. If this world is all there is, fear of something like a virus will increase dramatically. If there’s no objective moral truth, where do we get our bearings? This loss of grounding makes kids feel less safe and secure.
Meanwhile, we’ve become a digital society, and the Internet can bring out the worst in people. We say things to other people behind a computer or phone screen that we’d never say in person. Kids are no different, and they often absorb it in deep and painful ways. They also frequently use apps that adults don’t understand or control, and they often hurt because of it.
Then there’s the sexual revolution. The 1960s really launched this, of course, with the whole idea of “free love” and sex “without consequences.” But in recent years, promiscuity has given way to outright deviancy. The Rainbow Mafia is grooming kids by foisting sex miseducation on them at younger and younger ages, all in what can only be described as a vast and very sick recruitment effort. Kids who are taught to struggle with their sexual “identity” — i.e., they’re learning a mental disorder — are far more likely to exhibit further mental health problems.
What’s a parent to do? Be active in all these arenas of life and more. Don’t be so caught up in your own screen time that you miss what your kids are telling you. Being aware of other people can actually help not just their mental health but yours as well. If you’ve drifted away from faith, revisit it. If you never knew it to start with, go looking for it.
This study raises awareness of some serious warning signs, but we are by no means without hope. Our children will thank you for remembering that.
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