While many of us are putting Covid in the rearview mirror, some are only beginning to pick up the pieces. Surely, if you lost a loved one, the cruel reminder of Covid will be forever with you. You have our heartfelt condolences. It was a terrible way to leave the world. Of course, if you are a doctor or essential worker, you may have lingering PTSD that doesn’t resolve in a nice tidy fashion on the day we declare we’re Covid-free. I know I have a new respect for the cashiers, delivery personnel, and not only docs but the support staff that keep providers going!
I am now realizing however there is a large swath of the population who have been devastated by Covid who are getting short shrift in the hero department: teens. They were asked to put the most intensely developmental phases of their lives on hold for over a year–for a disease that posed little to no danger to them. It was a huge “ask” for a group in the most self-absorbed period of their lives (we hope anyway).
If you’ve been paying attention to the news or happen to parent these creatures, you are perhaps seeing and experiencing various degrees of “fall out,” from mild to nuclear. I for one, fear it’s the tip of a very large iceberg, just starting to reveal itself in the midst of our summer frolic and “revenge travel.”
Welcome to The New Pandemic: a potentially fatal cocktail of teenage anxiety, depression, and addiction. A recent June 2021 New York Times article highlights CDC data showing visits to the ER for suspected suicide attempts were up 51% for girls ages 12-17 in the 4 weeks ending March 20, 2020 over the same period in 2019 (boys remained stable). The rate began rising in the summer of 2020. This report “comes on the heels of other recent research that suggested higher rates of mental health problems among teenagers, including self-harm, suicide attempts, and suicidal ideation, which some experts worry could be related to stressors from the pandemic.”
Seriously? Some “experts worry it might be Covid-related?” OK, those experts must not be parents of affected children. Parents know it’s related and are worried about the actual harm to their kids! The above numbers are all the more concerning in light of the fact that “distance learning” continued for an additional year or longer beyond the aforementioned stats and is coming back to haunt these kids now–in summer school!
So, while adults are happy to shed the masks, get back to a more normal work environment, take a holiday, these kids are waking up to what can only be described as one bad Covid hangover: semesters of incompletes to the point there is no GPA to worry about, missed major milestones from proms to passing the driver’s license test. Then we have the kids who lost loved-ones due to Covid or feared for the safety of their essential worker parents.
Did you know driver’s ed went online, 3 hours/day during the pandemic in the midst of distance learning? Few could handle another 3 hours/day. There is a whole crop of kids who would normally be driving themselves to work and activities this summer but can’t. Maybe that’s why businesses that rely on teenage help can’t find any? Many parents aren’t letting their kids get their licenses until they get caught up in school and/or develop more maturity and responsibility. If anything, they see their kids as regressing over the pandemic.
In short, “the kids are NOT alright.” They found that the most reliable dopamine hits weren’t in cultivating true friendships, working hard, and achieving goals –but rather on the internet casino of gaming and social media. The problem there though is, in addition to dopamine, they got bursts of stress hormones like cortisol too.
YouTube gaming head Ryan Wyatt gleefully shared that users on his platform watched 100 billion hours of gaming content in 2020 — that’s double the number of hours watched in 2018. Minecraft was the winner by a landslide with more than 200 billion views. Grand theft auto had 70 billion views–wonder why carjackings by teenagers are up?(Source: NikoPartners LLC ).
So who were the losers? Kids–education, family dynamics, exercise, time spent outdoors. You know these games are addictive by design, right? The pavlovian reinforcement model used in casinos is no match for the squishy teenage brain whose judgment has yet to be hard-wired in.
So what are kids who are hopelessly behind in school, can’t drive, out of shape, depressed, anxious, addicted to the internet (among other things) supposed to do? Well, many of them are contemplating dropping out of school. These are not just the “marginal kids” either. They’re the good kids–the jocks, the geeks–all sorts. Scholarship candidates with high GPA’s pre-pandemic are having to settle for community college or just taking a year off to decompress. Kids who were headed for community college aren’t sure they can ever get through high school at this rate. They can’t make up the work in the “self-directed online” summer school model–the same approach that landed them in this labyrinth of “learned helplessness” in the first place.
They’re even being required to wear masks on the bus for summer school. So in a district touting its STEM program, we have vaccinated drivers and mostly, if not all, vaccinated kids sitting on a bus with the windows open and masks. Alrighty then.
So too bad but, “I’m not raising teens now so it’s not my problem,” you say. Why should you care? Minnesota-based Immunologist (PhD, JD) Hugh McTavish presents an interesting take on the Covid numbers: for every ONE life saved from Covid, 360 children had their education, health, wellbeing, and futures upended. If you’re an at-risk/65+ adult or just an adult with at-risk or 65+ loved ones, you owe these kids some gratitude and understanding.
In his book, Covid Lockdown Insanity, Dr. McTavish raises the age-old question pondered everywhere from Ancient Greece to Freshman Philosophy: did our actions serve “the greater good.” In fact, what is the “greater good” anyway? Lives lost, lifespan gained? Does “quality of life” matter, or is it just longevity?
An interesting argument starts to take shape as Dr. McTavish calculates the lockdowns saved about 200,000 lives. He then points out the average life span “left” for each Covid death averted was roughly 4 years. In other words, those that perished had about 4 years of lifespan left (on average people!). He then makes a bold jump and tries to quantify “severe depression” in terms of “lost years.” If you’ve ever experienced severe depression or lived with someone who has, you probably think this isn’t a huge stretch. If you haven’t, I can’t blame you for being skeptical.
The result is a birdseye view of Covid in terms of “person-years” lost vs. saved. The math goes something like this: Assuming 200,000 deaths averted with an average remaining lifespan for 4 years = 800,000 “person-years saved”
68,000 “deaths of despair” which include increased suicides and deaths by drug overdose, alcohol abuse. Those 68,000
are younger w/ an average remaining lifespan of 38 years = 2.58 million “person-years lost.”
That works out to 3 times more “person-years of life lost” due to “deaths of despair” than person-years saved. I’m not saying the above is “the right way” to look at the numbers but it is one way.
It drives home how much our young people sacrificed for their elders, their teachers, those at risk due to pre-existing conditions. The public school kids would’ve been alright–they could’ve clipped along in person as exemplified and documented in the country reports from Europe showing classroom spread was low even when community spread was high.
Of course in the early days, this was an unknown, but by early 2021, as teachers were getting vaccinated (with a high degree of protection within weeks after the first dose), the reports from Europe were out. A Spring semester of normalcy may have brought back many of these kids from “the brink.” Neighboring Wisconsin public schools are case-in-point as well as the numerous Minnesota private schools that remained in-person throughout. Hats off to their mission-driven teachers and administrators. Those kids will be rewarded as they far outpace their peers in every imaginable metric going forward. Believe me, the distance learning kids are well aware they can’t compete and so many have given up; and, are not only mourning the loss of the past year and a half but of their futures as well.
What you do need to know if you don’t have kids or aren’t experiencing the fallout firsthand: there is trauma everywhere–don’t underestimate based on their “chill” demeanors. Many of these kids are in PTSD situations. When children are traumatized, it cuts deeper for longer. In the trauma field, it’s called “mortal wounding” with consequences that reverberate far into the future as the kids don’t have the resources to process the trauma in real-time. These kids need help, support, mentoring, and likely some tough love to pick up the pieces. They need to learn other methods of self-care and self-soothing beyond addictive social media, gaming, and substance abuse. They also need to know society cares about them and will help them going forward– a lot of them have lost faith in their schools, teachers, administrations and school boards. Engage them in conversation and you’ll be shocked by the cynicism of these young citizens!
I can’t complain about something without at least offering some small fix. That’s why I’ll gladly teach any teen who shows up for any YogaHotDish class for free. It’s a small thing, but it’s all I have for now. Please fill out a contact form to RSVP so I know I’ll have room. And yes, they’re welcome to bring a friend–I recommend it.