How do kids feel entering year three of pandemic mitigation measures and are we ready for the heartbreaking answers?

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Photo by marco fileccia on Unsplash.

They can’t vote; some of them can’t even read or write their names. “Disenfranchised,” doesn’t even begin to describe them.

Most of them don’t have proper I.D. and couldn’t get one even if they could make their way to the local DMV to apply for a state issued one- which they can’t because they probably can’t drive or even navigate public transportation.

They can’t apply for or receive a mail-in ballot, provisional ballot, or any other type of ballot.

They can’t enter into legally binding contracts, can’t sit for public office. Some of them can’t even order a pizza without a great deal of help and most of them can’t pay for it.

They contribute very little to the GDP. They are inexperienced, often impulsive; completely dependent on others. They have almost no real power in society; they are its most vulnerable members.

Yet, they are courted by marketers, controlling as they do a massive amount of buying power. They are disenfranchised today; tomorrow is a different story. Whatever the present may hold for each of them, they are the controlling-share stock holders of the future; they are trust fund babies who haven’t yet reached their majority.

Kids. Children. Young people. K-12 school age humans and younger; toddlers and teenagers; pre-enrollees, recent grads and soon-to-grads getting their first predatory credit card offers in the mail. (Just say no, kids.)

Pre-K candidates still sporting diapers, the tween-set dancing to TikTok videos, Gen-Next video gamers and math nerds, spelling bee champions and chess club members, choral singers and athletes: There are enough under-18s in America to populate a smallish country of their own.

If America’s kids did have a country of their own- what would we find there? If kids across the nation formed a sort of nationwide kid-union to bargain with the adults in charge, what would their platform be? Their demands?

Everyone claims to speak for them, to have their best interests at heart. The current question raging regarding What’s Best For Kids: “Parents should decide what’s best for their kids!” v. “No, local, state and federal governments should decide what’s best for kids!”

What do kids think? More importantly, what will they think of all this in the future? When they are in charge?

Because they will be.

In spite of having very little control over what the adults around them probably call the “culture wars”, they are often made its footballs and foot soldiers.

COVID-19- with the difference between red school districts and blue ones becoming ever more pronounced as we enter the third year of pandemic mitigation measures- has proved no exception.

The pandemic, and our response to it, has been politicized whether anyone in particular likes it or not. Everything, from cartoon characters to recipes, has been politicized in these times. Expecting covid and covid-mitigation measures to be immune would be silly.

Caught in the middle, as always, are kids.

A young newscaster recently broke down in tears on a news program describing the impact school closures had on her final years in school.

Are we ready to hear, “The voice of a silenced and suffering generation,” as research fellow Max Eden recently called them in Newsweek. Quoting a teenager named Addison, who addressed the Naperville School District 203 Board of Education this week, Eden offered a preview.

“I am here to say thank you,” Addison began. “Thank you, school board and Superintendent Bridges for not using your power to push back on the state of Illinois about the mask mandate. We get to wear masks all day, every day now. Isn’t that great!”

“Thank you for forcing me to wear a mask so I no longer have to brush my teeth or wash my face,” the teenager went on. “Seriously, my life is so much easier. I don’t wear glasses, but if I did I would thank you for concealing my eyes with the fog from my breath, too.”

“Thank you for teaching students that our own mental health is much less important than making triple-vaccinated adults feel safe,” she told the school board. “Thank you for allowing me to experience the anxiety associated with never seeing facial expressions.”

“Thank you for teaching me that being a morally superior person only requires that I cover my face for eight hours a day,” she said. “And that the most morally superior people wear two masks. Or even three masks!”

“As you know, states around us — Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota, which have 2.5 times more students than Illinois — don’t force kids to wear masks,” she reminded the board. “I am with you, though! These states are out of control. Recklessly putting kids at risk of misery and death every day. Masks work! Even if the states have the same outcomes as Illinois.”

“Speaking of data, thank you for staying silent about masking despite the fact that COVID has a very high survival rate in kids my age. Who needs data anyway, though?” Addison said before voicing a creeping dread felt in many quarters.

“We all know that it will never be safe to see anyone’s face ever again.”

The bell is tolling elsewhere as major news outlets admit one after the other, whatever their political bent, that school closures, overly harsh and lengthy mask mandates, distancing guidelines, forced isolation and other measures have terrorized and overwhelmed kids to the breaking point. And beyond.

“Our students were taught to think of their schools as hubs for infection and themselves as vectors of disease,” wrote public school teacher Stacy Lance January 20 on Substack. “This has fundamentally altered their understanding of themselves.”

“Recently, one of my 11th grade students raised his hand and said that he wasn’t doing well, that he doesn’t want to keep living like this, but that he knows that no one is coming to save them,” Lance related. “The other kids all nodded in agreement. They feel lied to — and I can’t blame them.”

“At the beginning of the pandemic, adults shamed kids for wanting to play at the park or hang out with their friends,” she wrote. “We kept hearing, ‘They’ll be fine. They’re resilient.’”

“It’s true that humans, by nature, are very resilient,” Lance allowed. “But they also break. And my students are breaking. Some have already broken.”

No; the kids aren’t alright. Everyday more and more respected media figures are pointing out, like Bari Weiss, that “kids — from preschool to university — have borne the burden of our most draconian policies.”

“When we look at the Covid-19 pandemic through the lens of history, I believe it will be clear that we betrayed our children,” wrote Weiss this week. “The risks of this pandemic were never to them, but they were forced to carry the burden of it.”

It is a good reminder that it isn’t history which will judge the actions we took or didn’t take to mitigate COVID-19 or not. Our heirs will get do that.

When they dispassionately sort through the historical record of the lost covid years of 2020, 2021, 2022 and counting; how will our actions look to those who had the least control and the most to lose?

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)