Before we re-open schools we need to talk about this other pandemic
by Drew Beeman
As we consider opening schools and how we are going to do that safely in the midst of a pandemic, we really need to discuss the other pandemic that is affecting our children. Over the past 70 years there has been a steady rise in childhood mental disorders, and the rate is reaching pandemic proportions. Yet we hear so little about this serious problem. Now is the time to address it!
Here are some disturbing statistics from Peter Gray. Approximately 85% of young people today suffer from Anxiety and Depression, on a scale greater than the average scale of the same age group in the 1950’s. Since 1950 the US suicide rate for children under 15 years old has quadrupled, for 15 to 24 year olds it has more than doubled. More than 21 million prescriptions for stimulants are written each year mostly for kids 6 to 14 years old. That is a 400% increase from a decade ago. Anti-depressant use has risen 333% over the past decade as well. In the 25 years from 1982 through 2007, levels of narcissism rose significantly. By 2007 nearly 70 percent of college students scored higher in narcissism, during testing, than the average college student in 1982. This is a pandemic! This was what children have already been dealing with before covid!
Now we talk about opening schools after all of us have suffered some form of trauma during this covid ordeal. Many adults are finding it difficult to cope, how much more for our children who were already suffering. We really need to address the mental health of our children before we can reasonably even consider going back to school. How can we open and truly meet, not only the physical, but social, emotional and psychological needs of our children?
There is at least one thing that the children can do to help with their mental health…PLAY! There is an almost exact correlation with the amount of time children spend at self-directed play and the rise in childhood mental disorders. Peter Gray, and others that are doing this research, have come to believe that allowing children a lot more time at unstructured, child led play will result in happier, and healthier children. Child psychologists, Doctors and Educators agree. The American Academy of Pediatrics in their own report from 2012 state “Play, in all it’s forms, needs to be considered as the ideal educational and developmental milieu for children…the lifelong success of children is based on their ability to be creative and to apply the lessons learned from playing.”
Play is chemically linked with joy in our brains. Play is how we work out our issues and problems and make sense of the world around us, it is how we process our experiences. Play is the most mentally healthy thing children can do. The problem is that more and more adults are getting in the way of this natural process. We schedule their lives to fit our needs and desires, we step in and solve problems for our children, we constantly interrupt their process in order to “teach” them something or “scaffold” their learning. We are smothering them and stressing them out to the point where learning is unable to take place. We insist they sit still and be quiet which is the exact opposite of what they need in order to truly learn.
When schools open they need to be a place of healing and comfort and love, not pressure cookers. They need to embrace children being children, they need to make PLAY a priority or rather THE priority. They need to meet the needs of children not some curriculum or standardized test, not the desires of some bureaucrat or administrator that doesn’t know the first thing about child development.
If ever there was a time to address the psychological needs of our children and change our education system, the time is now! Do it!