The COVID pandemic means life is extra stressful for kids Avah Lamie, 11, says this is a stressful time to be a kid. Rates of anxiety and depression among children and youth were on the rise even before COVID, but the past two years have made things worse.

What life is like for an 11-year-old

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We've been talking recently about anxiety and depression among children and youth. Those were on the rise even before the COVID-19 pandemic, but kids and the grown-ups around them say the past two years have made things worse. From Vermont Public Radio, Anna Van Dine has this report.

ANNA VAN DINE, BYLINE: Ava Lamy (ph) feels like the world needs a lot of fixing. She feels it when she thinks about melting glaciers and plastic in the ocean, and lately, she's been feeling it at school.

AVA LAMY: We've had some fights at recess, some physical, some just yelling. And it really just - it gets you down sometimes.

VAN DINE: The 11-year-old lives in Hartford, a town of almost 10,000 people on the border of Vermont and New Hampshire. She's like a lot of kids. She goes to a dance class, likes science, has a little brother. She's in fifth grade at a small public school.

AVA: Some people just have a rough time at home, I think. It's not really any of my business. And there's other facts where some people just - they want to be tough because we're going through really hard things.

VAN DINE: That really hard thing is the COVID-19 pandemic. Ava says everything feels a lot bigger right now.

AVA: Because we have to focus on a lot at once. And since things can't really be the same because of COVID, of course, I think it just makes people more emotional and sensitive.

VAN DINE: Molly Farnham-Stratton says Ava's right. She's a therapist who works with young people at the Vermont Center for Anxiety Care.

MOLLY FARNHAM-STRATTON: Whether it's a small thing like a playdate, but they were looking forward to it for so long, and then somebody's sick, right? That kind of constant shifting, that, I think, is just exhausting.

VAN DINE: Farnham-Stratton says the impacts of disrupted networks are more acute for young people from certain backgrounds. She also says kids pick up on the stress of adults in their lives - Ava does. At school, she sees the strain on her teachers.

AVA: Like, there's the crinkle in their eyebrows. Their eyes look kind of distracted sometimes.

VAN DINE: On top of all of that, there are still the expectations of school, but disrupted schedules and pervasive anxiety can make meeting them feel impossible. Allison Hayes (ph) is an elementary school counselor in Vermont. She says kids often don't have the language to express what they're feeling or even to identify what that feeling is.

ALLISON HAYES: Anxiety, often for kids, comes out as a more aggressive behavior, irritability. And so it's quicker. Everybody's a little quicker to snap.

VAN DINE: Which could explain some of what Ava sees at recess. The thing that adults sometimes forget about being a kid is that, for what seems like a very long time, you're old enough to get what's going on but too young to do anything about it. Ava says she's in-between, which is a hard place to be.

AVA: I know lots of kids out there. They are feeling alone and crowded in this pandemic, like, both at the same time. Sometimes you need to give them space, and other times you just have to be there to support them.

VAN DINE: Therapist Molly Farnham-Stratton says one thing adults can do amidst all the uncertainty is to be honest and, in an age-appropriate way, explain a bit about what's going on. The pandemic's long-term impacts on young people won't be understood for a long time, but mental health experts say don't forget, kids are resilient. Some of those impacts will be challenges, and some could be strengths. For Ava, even though so many of the world's problems seem enormous, they aren't insurmountable.

AVA: I feel like there's a lot going on out there that we can actually fix.

VAN DINE: But, she says, it will take a lot of time. For NPR News, I'm Anna Van Dine.

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