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Exploring the Experiences of Children in the Coronavirus Pandemic

Audrey is a mom who tries to do things as naturally as possible, whether it be cooking or home remedies.

Should we be masking pre-pubescent children? Read more to find out why I think not.

Should we be masking pre-pubescent children? Read more to find out why I think not.

All the Cool Stuff is Gone

Today I took my oldest son out to breakfast at our local Cracker Barrel. He has been on Christmas break at preschool for several weeks and he really wanted a date with his mommy. I chose breakfast time on a Monday because I thought less people would be out, which turned out to be true; it was practically empty. We both wore our masks and sat at an empty, sanitized table away from anyone else. We squirted on sanitizer after handing our disposable menu back to the waitress, always standing far away. He lamented that the little golf tee jumping game was not on the table and the checkers were removed from the table near the fire. We started talking about the pandemic, and at only five years old he could understand that since it started people “took away all the cool stuff” from all the businesses, in his words. Gone are the strange wooden abacus-style toys in doctor’s office wait rooms and the kids’ menus with crayons in restaurants. Gone are the puzzles and whiteboard with markers at our local coffee shop, and of course the checkers at Cracker Barrel. I said to him, “You know, it’s sad that all of the fun things have been taken away; it’s not your fault this virus is everywhere.” As I tried to focus on my date with my son, my mind kept slipping back to the children of 2020.

How Have Children Handled the Pandemic?

A meme three different friends recently posted to social media came to the surface of my mental hard drive; I had stored it there because something about it made me uneasy. “Children deserve a ton of credit for how they handled 2020,” it said, “We asked them to change their lives in numerous terrible ways, largely for the protection of adults. And they did it.” (A twitter user named Matthew Segal at the handle @segalmr wrote the original tweet). I commend Mr. Segal’s praise of children’s handling of the pandemic, as well as my friends’ reposting and support of this point of view; I believe they all meant well. However, I do not agree with them despite their good intentions. It’s true some children have handled 2020 very well, but others are undoubtedly very sad and not adjusting well. Children with special needs are going without much needed therapies, and kids in less than ideal home situations are trapped in their misery more than they used to be. And comparatively insignificant in nature, run-of-the-mill preschoolers like my own miss their sense of normal: a game or two anywhere you go; something for the kiddos. To disregard these facts is to ignore the struggles of millions of the tiniest of Americans, who don’t know how to express their feelings and defend themselves.

We Never Asked

My biggest point of contention with Mr. Segal’s tweet is that in reality nobody asked the children to change their lives. We didn’t sit them down and say, “Okay, children. Will you?” Instead, we changed their lives for them and they had no choice but to suck it up and deal with it. The national government, CDC, and WHO put out health recommendations that changed the functioning of businesses and institutions. State governors mandated health regulations and implemented lockdowns. Business owners scrambled to find ways to make sure that their establishments did not contribute to the spread. School systems closed, made students learn online, and required mask-wearing. Parents shielded their children by keeping them home and away from other family members. I’m not saying these things are bad; all I’m saying is we never asked.

For the Protection of Adults

And should we have asked? Maybe not. Mr. Segal was right in saying all this was “largely for the protection of adults.” Let’s admit it: many of us are scared. This virus begins affecting people any age after puberty, is contagious but in mysterious ways, can be so mild you have no symptoms or so severe that you die of double pneumonia or a slew of other health complications. Its favorite victims are those with comorbidities like obesity or heart disease, but the overwhelming majority (almost unanimously) of the lives it claims are older adult lives. We don’t want to die. We want to be here for next Christmas and so-and-so’s wedding and so on. We want to live. My question is this: is the weight we have placed on Childrens’ shoulders during this pandemic fair? I don’t know if I have the answer. I can say my gut instinct is that the harshest restrictions placed on children have indeed not been good for them.

I think the fear is that children will pass Covid on to elderly family members. But here is a novel idea: don’t let the children (or anyone) around elderly family members. If they are scared of getting the virus and dying, they should probably stay home alone, never go out, and not answer the door for anyone. That way they are safe. However, the moment they start expecting small children to isolate themselves and live with difficult restrictions, they are putting their needs over the childrens’. Some people could interpret this as selfishness.

Our family self-isolated during the month of December so we could spend Christmas with my grandparents. In January, I let them all know that we are no longer isolating as strictly, so we are not comfortable seeing them for a while. It was hard for my five year old to stay home all the time and do nothing away from home. Some kids are fine with it, but he was bored. He craves adventures and being with others. So now we are carefully taking him places like breakfast this morning. He wears a mask well. We use sanitizer. We distance from others. It still may not be enough. We very well may come down with the coronavirus soon. I’d like to think we are young, thin, and healthy and will get over it well, but you never know. We could become very sick, or even die. I’m not saying those aren’t possibilities. What I am saying is that mental health and adventures in childhood are also important. We are not going crazy and licking everyone’s door knob; we are just getting out a bit and being careful about it. That means our elderly family members will not get to see us for a while. In fact, every family member should decide if they want to be around us or not, and we will respect their decision.

Children May Be Poor Transmitters of Virus

Also, another point people are not remembering when implementing restrictions is that kids are not getting this virus nearly as much as adults. (Read more on National Geographic). Now some people will link a random article about a random kid that got it somewhere. (I will offer my rebuttal: a case of a 25-year-old perfectly healthy female that almost died of the flu two years ago. Anyone can get any virus and freak accident situations occur all the time). But when looking at statistics, it is not a virus that regularly attacks children before puberty, of which I am thankful. Yet we take away their toys and entertainment at all businesses and expect them to sit in class all day with a mask on and distance themselves from their peers. Wouldn’t it be more useful to isolate the vulnerable, rather than expect the healthiest among us, the young who are almost never attacked by Covid, to put up with all sorts of restrictions that are not backed by data?

My Argument and Conclusion

I will double down on my statements as someone who believes the virus is very bad, even deadly, and as someone who is moderately scared of getting it. Let children go free. Let’s place all the restrictions on adults, above all those over sixty. Let’s set up delivery, grocery, and pharmacy services that help older adults not have to go out into society. Let’s educate adults so that they do not visit elderly people. The elderly are the vulnerable, not the children. Children should not have to feel like they are carriers of death. My five year old should not even know what a virus or a germ is, and he certainly shouldn’t have to breathe through a mask all day long. Some children start puberty as early as ten years old, or fifth grade. So around fifth grade or after, measures should start to be put in place. But I think that masking and social distancing for children under ten is mildly abusive and definitely personality-altering for kids. It may also be completely unnecessary as they don’t seem to be prone to carrying or suffering from it, and they also don’t have the mental capacity to understand things like the “greater good” or “vulnerable populations”. They just know all the “cool stuff is gone” and childhood has lost its fun. Let’s protect the vulnerable and let the children go free. Their shoulders are much too small to bear such heavy burdens.

But what does my opinion mean anyway? Not very much. Politicians and other leaders are making all of our decisions for us and we get no say. So I have used this tiny platform to advocate for children and childhood in the only way I know how. I plead with any decision-maker reading this to stop forcing children to play in distanced, taped square spaces. Stop masking children below fifth grade. Stop removing any semblance of childhood fun in public locations. Let the children be children.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 Audrey Lancho