Pediatrician weighs in on impact of pandemic on generation of kids
Dr. Beardmore said young kids are particularly resilient and adaptable
DeForest, Wis. (WMTV) - For a lot of students, the first day of class is full of excitement and anticipation. That was the case for sixth grader Owen Taylor.
“He was so excited for that first day back,” Megan Taylor said of her son. “He had everything laid out, he was ready to go, he couldn’t sleep that night because he was just so excited. You could see that spark back in his eyes.”
But Owen’s first day back in the classroom didn’t come in the Fall. Instead, it came part way through the school year, after starting the year off learning virtually during the pandemic from the Taylor home in DeForest.
“I think in the beginning it was scary,” Taylor said. “I think everybody was scared. we didn’t know what to expect, what to think, we didn’t know how we were going to manage it.”
Taylor is mom to 21-year-old Riley, 15-year-old Kailin, 12-year-old Owen, and 2-year-old Emerson. Like so many families, the pandemic brought the Taylors a lot of changes and transitions to daily life.
Emerson was transitioning into daycare, but her parents weren’t able to walk her to her classroom and get her settled in due to COVID-19 safety precautions. Owen and Kailin were both attending school from desks in their bedrooms. Taylor said over time, virtual learning began to wear on Owen and Kailin.
“We’ve had a lot of dinners at the table with the kids upset and crying and just saying I just want to get back, just want to see my teachers, I want to see my friends” Taylor said.
Taylor said she and other parents began pushing for a return to in-person learning. Now, Owen and Kailin are back to learning in-person a few days a week, a change Taylor described as a light switch being flipped and returning the spark back to her children’s eyes. But not all children have found that joy again.
Dr. Dan Beardmore, a pediatrician at SSM Saint Mary’s Hospital in Janesville, said he has seen an increase of mental health issues for pre-teens and adolescents, and in teenagers and into early college kids.
“I think that there are going to be lasting impacts for our preteens, adolescents, and teenagers,” Beardmore said. “Even if they didn’t have to miss large chunks of school, their experience is very very different. They didn’t get opportunities to hang out with their friends, they didn’t get opportunities to do extracurriculars, team sports, team activities, clubs. That just changed the experience greatly for them. A lot of them have sadness and worry about missing out on those sorts of things.”
Beardmore said missing out on these experiences, especially during developmentally important years, has negatively impacted patients.
“Our young adults who us pediatricians still take care of really went through a lot, and we see it in the clinics,” he said. “I saw so many kids with new onset or worsening anxiety symptoms, depression symptoms, and you can’t just bounce back from that. That takes recovery, that takes treatment, that takes counseling and a lot of work. Those are the groups that us pediatricians are really worried about.”
To support kids facing these challenges, Beardmore encouraged strong communication between parents and children.
“The biggest thing I think for parents is to do frequent check-ins,” he said. “Make sure you have open communication, a very good quality relationship. It’s so easy to assume that if your child isn’t coming to you with problems, there aren’t any. But we all know it’s easy to hide them, it’s hard to talk about them as a kid.”
Beardmore also emphasized the importance of communicating honestly, and believing each other when feelings are shared and discussed.
Young children have also experienced changes to their daily lives. However, Dr. Beardmore said they are particularly resilient.
“The younger kids are really resilient and really adaptable,” he said. “Just like amazingly toddlers are wearing masks, and they adapted to this change so quickly and easily, I think that it’s going to be the same post pandemic or when the vaccines are rolled out and some of our social norms are brought back.”
Jessica Hansen lives in DeForest and is mom to 11-month-old Sawyer and 4-year-old Isla. She has seen firsthand how Isla has adapted during the pandemic.
Hansen said due to a close family member’s diagnosis with cancer before the pandemic, and because she was pregnant for part of the pandemic, her family was conscious about germs, and communicated openly about germs and the virus with Isla.
“She’s very well aware of germs and she’s really good at policing all of us, making sure everybody’s staying safe which is also crazy because [those are] things we never thought about when we were three or four.”
Hansen said Isla has deemed COVID-19 “the yucky virus,” and makes sure her family dons masks before leaving the house.
“We joke around about it because any time she sees anyone out in public without a mask she goes, ‘they’re not wearing a mask, they’re going to get the yucky virus,’” Hansen said. “Also, knowing to use hand sanitizer which is a weird thing because we didn’t use it so much when we were all growing up.”
Some of Beardmore’s families have expressed concerns about infants not having exposure to many people, or not seeing or recognizing people’s faces because of mask wearing.
“Even if there’s a concern in a lot of parents’ minds for that, that their babies aren’t going to be used to socializing or seeing other people, we really do believe, us pediatricians, that these kids are going to bounce back really quick too.”
While both Taylor and Hansen said their families did have initial anxieties about the virus, after open conversations and learning more, those fears went away. Beardmore said adults can help reassure kids, especially during the next transition as COVID-19 restrictions begin to loosen.
“We have to be the bigger ones to teach and show the way, we have to be the wiser ones to explain and make them feel safe.”
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