SPONSORED:

If kids could vote this November

If kids could vote this November
© getty: Children in an elementary school class wearing masks enter the classroom with desks spaced apart as per coronavirus guidelines during summer school sessions in Monterey Park, California on July 9, 2020

Kids have been deeply affected by the pandemic and resulting economic downturn — all of our kids. And they have all been forever changed by the protests regarding systemic racism in our country. Their generation will never be the same. Since they can’t vote, but you can, please consider their futures. They are watching us and this election.

Even when kids do not become ill with the virus (although some will), please do not underestimate the toll it has been taking on their lives. For the foreseeable future, to some degree, they will lose the safety net that schools provide for their healthy development — not just meals for those who need them, but also their relationships with friends, teachers, staff, coaches and bus drivers. Many kids have lost milestone events that cannot be replaced. They have also lost opportunities for learning with unknown consequences. 

Kids have also lost much of their social safety net in their communities. This summer, most kids did not go safely to camp, or the pool, or splashed in water of open hydrants. Most have not been celebrating their birthdays or hanging out with friends. Some of their parents are unemployed or remain in essential jobs and worry about bringing home the virus. Some of their parents have been concerned about becoming or remaining homeless. Other parents have been stressed about how to work or look for work while caring for children or helping them learn at home. No generation of kids in this country has had (or witnessed) as many worries and as many losses as they have in such a short time. What’s more, not all of them have access to mental health supports — whether because of access, or health insurance, or that they receive them only if attending school.

ADVERTISEMENT

All kids, in one way or another, will be forever affected by the national conversation about race, the protests and violence regarding racial inequalities, incidents of police brutality, implicit bias, and public displays of racism. Some kids with black or brown skin have been growing up afraid or sad. Some have families who came from Asia and have been blamed for the virus that caused the pandemic. Some kids have friends with skin colors different from their own and cannot understand why their experiences are so different from their own. Skin color seems to be defining for kids in this country. 

If kids could vote, they would vote for those candidates who require all the necessary measures to teach online effectively and who support that communities open schools safely — and who provide funding to do it. If kids could vote, they would vote for those candidates with the courage to enforce the painful realities of wearing masks and social distancing so that communities and businesses could open safely and remain open. They would vote for those who see the dire need in this country for a stronger safety net and public health system, such that we would be better prepared for global health threats in the future. 

Kids would vote for those candidates who recognize how long it will take for their parents to return to work and the importance of continuing financial relief that supports basic needs like housing. They would vote for those who champion continued health care reform and access to effective mental health services. If kids could vote, they would vote for those candidates who support fundamental reforms to address racial inequalities and structural racism. They would vote for candidates who aim to prevent the early development of racial stereotyping in young children and support major reforms in police training. Kids would vote for those who pursue solutions for the origins of health inequalities in childhood.

What voters could fail to realize is that children’s experience now will impact their development, health, and productivity into adulthood. In turn, the future prosperity of our communities and our country depends on the healthy development of children. This long-term perspective does not align with short term thinking about returns on investment or elections. Importantly, science-based policies, particularly regarding prevention, can foster children’s resilience. With the triple threats of the pandemic, economic downturn, and national reckoning about race in this country, there has never been a more important time to invest in the next generation. If kids could vote this November, they would vote for the candidates who promise to do just that.

Mary Ann McCabe, Ph.D., is an adjunct associate clinical professor of Pediatrics, George Washington University School of Medicine. Deborah Klein Walker, Ed.D., is an adjunct professor of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University. David W. Willis, M.D., is a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Social Policy.