Two years ago, my son would have been thrilled at the idea of skiing on a random Thursday. Now that he can wrap up his classes in the morning and hit the slopes, he would tell you in a heartbeat that he’d rather be at school.
Things are hard in my house right now. Among the worst feelings for a parent is helplessness. I can’t fix this problem. My kids are struggling and I can’t help them.
How many times in a day can I say:
I’m sorry. What can I do to help?
I’m sorry you have to go through this.
I’m sorry. I’m not sure what to do.
“Why is everything so horrible right now?” my son asked recently.
I tried to explain that we’re living through a crisis, that these are historic times. We talked about other historic crises, war times, imagining classmates being hauled off to concentration camps. After that conversation, I started thinking about the enormity of this pandemic, why it’s different from worldwide tragedies of the past and why it’s so uniquely difficult for kids.
Kids’ lives were disrupted in unprecedented ways. What they need are examples of resilience, of accepting delayed gratification, and of making the best of a bad situation. On that front, American parents have seriously let the nation’s children down. Some adults still claim there’s no pandemic. Grown-ups insist that people aren’t actually dying of COVID-19, or that 500,000 isn’t really that many people, or those people were going to die anyway. How unsettling, for a kid going through this, to hear adults say it isn’t really happening.
Parents rant about how COVID restrictions affect their kids while actively making choices that keep these restrictions necessary. Some of the same people who refuse masks and throw parties are furious that schools aren’t open full time. The cognitive dissonance is astounding.
The difficulties are real. Kids need to be in school. While the online format works great for some, it doesn’t work at all for my youngest. He needs to be in class, with other kids. Instead, he chose a fully online option because he has high-risk people in his life and he wants to protect them. The day when he can go back to school because his grandparents are fully vaccinated cannot come fast enough.
This fact breaks my heart: my 16-year-old carries the burden of protecting his loved ones because so many adults around him have refused. Kids are sacrificing right now, not because the pandemic demands it, but because adults have failed them. Everywhere they look, they see people refusing to wear masks, hanging out in crowded bars and hosting parties. They have the scary sensation that the competent adults are not in control, and that realization takes a serious toll on the adolescent psyche.
The kids are not okay. Are we ever going to talk about how profoundly the adults of this nation have let them down? There may be light at the end of the tunnel as far as the pandemic goes, but our children have a long, long road back to normal. We’ve just taught an entire generation that, when the collective good depended on sacrifice, it was up to them because the adults refused. That’s bound to have consequences.
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