For the past two years, Americans have accepted more harm to children in exchange for less harm to adults.
American children are starting 2022 in crisis.
I have long been aware that the pandemic was upending children’s lives. But until I spent time pulling together data and reading reports, I did not understand just how alarming the situation had become.
Today’s newsletter offers an overview of that crisis.
Children fell far behind in school during the first year of the pandemic and have not caught up. Among third through eighth graders, math and reading levels were all lower than normal this fall, according to NWEA, a research group. The shortfalls were largest for Black and Hispanic students, as well as students in schools with high poverty rates.
“We haven’t seen this kind of academic achievement crisis in living memory,” Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute told Politico.
Many children and teenagers are experiencing mental health problems, aggravated by the isolation and disruption of the pandemic. Three medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recently declared a national state of emergency in children’s mental health. They cited “dramatic increases in emergency department visits for all mental health emergencies.”
Suicide attempts have risen, slightly among adolescent boys and sharply among adolescent girls. The number of E.R. visits for suspected suicide attempts by 12- to 17-year-old girls rose by 51 percent from early 2019 to early 2021, according to the C.D.C.
Gun violence against children has increased, as part of a broader nationwide rise in crime. In Chicago, for example, 101 residents under age 20 were murdered last year, up from 76 in 2019. School shootings have also risen: The Washington Post counted 42 last year in the U.S., the most on record and up from 27 in 2019.
Many schools have still not returned to normal, worsening learning loss and social isolation. Once-normal aspects of school life — lunchtime, extracurricular activities, assemblies, school trips, parent-teacher conferences, reliable bus schedules — have been transformed if not eliminated.
When The Morning asked parents and teachers about the situation in their local schools, we heard an outpouring of anguish:
“This is no way for children to grow up,” Jackie Irwin, a reader in Oklahoma, told us. “It is maddening.”
“For so many kids, school represents a safe, comfortable, reliable place, but not for nearly two years now,” Lisa Durstin of Strafford, Vt., said.
“A lot of the joy and camaraderie that signifies a happy, productive school culture has disappeared,” said Maria Menconi, a schools consultant and former superintendent based in Arizona.
Behavior problems have increased. “Schools across the country say they’re seeing an uptick in disruptive behaviors,” Kalyn Belsha of Chalkbeat reported. “Some are obvious and visible, like students trashing bathrooms, fighting over social media posts or running out of classrooms. Others are quieter calls for help, like students putting their head down and refusing to talk.”
Kelli Tuttle, a teacher in Madison, Wis., told us, “There is a lot of swearing, vandalism and some fights.” A teacher in Northern California said she had witnessed the “meanest, most inappropriate comments to teachers” in her 15 years of working in schools.
The Omicron variant is now scrambling children’s lives again. Most schools have stayed open this week, but many have canceled sports, plays and other activities. Some districts have closed schools, for a day or more, despite evidence that most children struggle to learn remotely, as my colleague Dana Goldstein reports. Closings are taking place in Atlanta, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Newark and several New York City suburbs, among other places.
“It’s chaos,” Keri Rodrigues, president of the National Parents Union, told Dana. “The No. 1 thing that parents and families are crying out for is stability.”
Read the remainder at the link,