The children’s mental health crisis didn’t start with the pandemic

We are deep in the grip of a children’s mental health crisis.

That’s one belief that everyone in our deeply divided country seems to share. The headlines have been terrible: “8-Year-Olds in Despair.” “Their Tank is Empty.” “No Way to Grow Up.” Parents are frustrated, terrified – and increasingly angry. And they don’t have to look far to find politicians and pundits who will channel their pain. Those with the loudest voices and the biggest platforms all appear to agree: The children’s mental health crisis is a consequence of covid-era political decisions – the child-sacrificing outcome of too-rigid social distancing, too-lengthy school closures and too much mask-wearing. “The pandemic’s disruptions have led to lost learning, social isolation and widespread mental-health problems for children,” the New York Times’ David Leonhardt summed up back in January in a much-quoted newsletter. “Many American children are in crisis – as a result of pandemic restrictions rather than the virus itself.”

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