“Children as young as 8 should be screened for anxiety,” so says the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Claiming that the pandemic has exacerbated an already expanding problem among young people, the Wall Street Journal, reporting on the development, draws several connections to COVID-19 restrictions, and intuition may suggest that there is a correlation. But the data is still being accumulated to fully explain the increases in mental debilitation among youngsters, including significant increases in suicides. The Task Force cited 78 studies but still held insufficient evidence to draw broader conclusions or warnings for younger children.
To be sure, the pandemic has caried with it any number of long-term effects on our nation. The financial impact of our actions and those of our government are only now playing out. Isolation and restricted movement likewise are still being measured. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 44 percent of high school students now experience persistent feelings of “sadness or hopelessness” and relates the high numbers to family deaths or loss of routine during the lockdowns.
Still, if we are considering the whole child, shouldn’t our assessment look at the larger social context of these changes? Is there a cumulative impact of the dissolution of marriage as an institution, a rising and fundamental disbelief in institutions, and absence of prudence in what we expose to the fully unformed mind, including social media? Do we consider what the 8-year-old hears from the back seat when we call our ex (their daddy or mommy) a loser, their schoolteacher some “ist,” police officers evil, our nation’s founders toxic and God dead? For most adults, such speech would generate anxiety and despair. Is it possible that our lack of general civil constraint has proven itself to be more virulent to our children than this recent disease?