The kids aren’t all right


Bryan Walsh

May 9, 2020

A young boy in Thailand.

A young boy in Thailand. Photo: Chaiwat Subprasom/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Image

Experts fear children will be suffering from the psychological effects of the pandemic for decades — even down to the level of their genes.

Why it matters: Children are not exempt from the stress associated with the pandemic and its accompanying economic shock, and we could be reckoning with the scars of the experience for generations.

Driving the news: A new survey of more than 6,000 parents and children in the U.S., UK and other countries by the charity Save the Children found about 1 in 4 children living under COVID-19 lockdowns are dealing with anxiety and are at risk of depression.

Context: Based on past research into the long-term effects of economic stress, experts worry the impacts of the pandemic will be felt by children long after the disease itself is finally conquered.

  • “The poorest households simply won’t recover from the effects on education and lost income,” says Candice Odgers, co-director of the Child and Brain Development Program at the Canadian NGO CIFAR. “For many children their safety place is school, and that has been pulled out from under them.”

How it works: While the anxiety and feelings of depression connected to the pandemic may seem purely psychological, research suggests those intense stressors can affect children’s genes and biological development.

  • “These early life experiences literally get under the skin,” says Michael Kabor, a professor of medical genetics at the University of British Columbia. “That’s why we think the secondary effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are going to be profound.”

The bottom line: Experts urge policymakers to ensure that benefits and aid be distributed equitably to children at all income levels. And while they deal with their own coronavirus anxieties, parents should be mindful of what their children are enduring.

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