Plea For the Children
Let Our Children Go
It’s never been a better time to be a newborn. Knowing the dangers posed by even mild colds, many of our parents will stay secluded for weeks after their child’s birth - they’ve been social distancing since before it was cool. Families who once lived in fear of the friendly lady at church can now rest at ease as a masked populace gladly keeps its distance. For those of our patients over 2 months of age, however, things aren’t going quite as smoothly: we are on the precipice of a mental health disaster.
Before the pandemic, American children were already suffering from anxiety and depression at unprecedented levels. Two leading contributors: isolation and isolation’s handmaiden, screen time. It is not just that screen time itself has negative mood effects, but that the time spent on screens takes away from the best mood booster there is: spending time with your friends, in real life, face to face. With our “new normal,” kids are stuck home, stuck alone, and doing all their work on … screens. Our mental health risk factors will not take a holiday just because the public health experts want them to. Given the trends before social distancing, what do you suppose will happen now that society is coming together to force our kids to stay apart?
Our new epidemiologist overseers will reply, if it saves one life, it’s worth it. Well, it may literally save just one life. None of us will forget the harrowing scenes out of Italy. Of all those tens of thousands of dead, however, there have been only two children. New York has been our worst hit city, yet among the thousands of deaths, there have been only three children, all with underlying conditions. We were right to be cautious in the early days. Now that the data is coming in, it is time to reconsider. Any parent would rather have a miserable child than a dead child – but if your child’s chance of death even at the epicenter of the worst outbreak is statistically zero, the moral calculus changes. Given the remarkably few worldwide child coronavirus deaths, it is reasonable to predict that significantly more American children will die from social-distancing-prompted suicide than from the virus itself. The time has come to let our children go. Go outdoors, go play, go free.
A common argument against the liberation of children is that, while they themselves are not in danger, they can spread the illness to those who are. The science behind that assumption is sketchy, at best. In both Australia and Switzerland, for example, public health authorities have declared that children are not significant vectors for coronavirus. Even if they are, though, is that reason enough to imprison them indefinitely? Not if there’s another option. Luckily for us, there is. Most kids have friends who happen to be… other kids. Of course children should not be allowed anywhere near nursing homes right now – nobody should! Protecting the vulnerable must be a priority. Letting kids play with other kids, and preventing them from descending into madness, is another priority. We can do both. The alternative – indefinite, soul-crushing detention – is simply inhumane.
Parents, do the right thing: kick the kids out of the house. Public health officials: support parents in their efforts to keep their kids healthy by keeping them social. Communities: reopen your youth groups, sports leagues, daycares, and schools. As for the elderly, I trust you will want to give your grandchildren the gift of happiness, knowing it won’t pose them harm. If worried for yourself, continue to keep your distance. We have never closed society to protect our youngest, vulnerable though they are. For now, it seems you and all our newborns may be in the same boat.
About the Author: Dr. Adrian Gaty is a primary care pediatrician practicing at Chisholm Trail Pediatrics in Round Rock, Texas.