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What about our kids?

When do we start talking about the kids?

That’s the thought that plays out in my mind so much as we continue to live the “COVID” life.

With a column space entitled “Fitness and Beyond,” I truly wish this issue I were penning something on revolutionary wellness, yet this is a topic which currently plagues me the most. 

Mental health after all is (in my opinion) more important than “fitness,” so let’s just chalk this up to the “beyond” portion of this column space.

I wish this was a simple topic. I wish my concern was simply about distance learning and the grades which so many are struggling with, but that (in my opinion) is fixable in time.

As I’ve shared with my two students, they are struggling through a time in education when most of the rest of the country is in the same boat – that’s a good thing. They are not alone in this, academically speaking, and I remind them of this on the pretty regular.

Yet as I listen to the news and the COVID numbers, ICU concerns and vaccine updates, I wonder where are the reports on teen suicide? Where are the reports on the rise in cases of 5150, suicide attempts and teen depression?

Say what you will and agree or not, but as a parent I am just as concerned about this as I am about a family member getting COVID. While the death toll and case numbers continue to maintain the state of fear for many, I’m concerned about the numbers which are not being reported or talked about by way of our youth.

This is personal for me. As a mother of two students who once looked forward to going to school we are now in a place of somewhat hopelessness. Their hopes last spring of returning to school in the fall gone and the current dream of returning in the new year diminished.

Even with some schools observing a hybrid schedule and distancing guidelines in place, these kids miss people. The burden some are now living through while distance learning is troublesome.

Again, using my own two as an example, stuck at home distance learning while their mom battles cancer. No escape of popping into school to spend time with friends, teachers, others and relieve their minds for a bit of their everyday reality.

Early into the school year, I began speaking with many friends who happen to be teachers. While some actually like the distance learning model, others have shared the frustration with teaching students while competing with at home distractions. Distractions which can mean anything and, boy, are the stories a doozy. Some have shared parents addressing teachers via Google classroom during class time, young students bouncing baby siblings on their hips as mom and dad are off to work and older siblings are also in class; the list goes on and we’re not even addressing the academic piece yet.

How does one console the gifted student who is now failing from lack of intellectual stimulation? How does one help the average student who is now struggling because they thrive in an environment of hands-on learning? Or the insecure teen student, who now must stare at their image each day while in “virtual” class? And please someone tell me how do we equip these students with hope if they happen to have been given a teacher who lacks empathy?

Once again speaking from personal experience, I myself encountered a phone call with a person on authority questioning my involvement with my student. The condescending tone was both off-putting and alarming. Not one to be accepting of such behavior, I reminded this person that we are ALL navigating uncharted territory, not just the teacher, student and administrator, but the parents, the family and care providers as well. If we don’t work together now for the betterment of our children then we are failing just as much as our leadership (in my opinion).

Which brings me back to my initial concern, the mental well-being of our children as we navigate the (still) unknown with no true end date in sight.

As numbers have yet to be reported, I can share with respect of friend-to-friend confidentiality that teen suicide attempts, as well as an increase in 5150 cases have increased at our 209 hospitals. These are our kids. This is not a big city/urban problem. This is our problem.

So, as we look forward to the unfolding of events this spring, please take a moment to think about our children. Engage in conversation with them. Get outside with them. Remember their mental health is just as important as what we are dealing with in mainstream media; they need to feel seen, as well as supported. These are the faces and voices of our future and we must care for them.