Many students across the United States are socially and emotionally frozen at their age when the pandemic hit, according to school counselors surveyed by the New York Times.
The Times interviewed 362 school counselors working with kindergarteners through high school seniors, with the unscientific survey painting a grim picture for young people’s ability to cope and relate amid the pandemic.
Most counselors told the Times that they have noticed more students showing signs of anxiety or depression, trouble focusing on classwork and difficulties solving conflicts with friends.
Eighty-eight percent of counselors said they have seen more students struggling emotionally, and 67 percent reported seeing more signs of students with low self-esteem. Seventy-two percent said they have seen students more often breaking classroom rules, according to the survey.
The survey included interviews with school counselors in 49 states, including a quarter in urban areas and a third in rural areas.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a public health advisory in December about mental health challenges young people were grappling with during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that the pandemic had caused anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns to increase.
The Times’ survey found that more than nine in ten counselors reported noticing increased anxiety and depression in their students compared to before the pandemic.
Just six of the 362 individuals interviewed said students’ social skills were back to normal for their age. And nine in 10 counselors reported that their jobs were more stressful compared to before.
The survey also found changes to students’ interactions online. A slim majority of counselors — 51 percent — said they noticed more instances of students harassing their peers online and engaging in physical fights.
“There is an increase in sexual behaviors and vandalism due to the viral TikToks,” Melissa Sonnenblick, a school counselor in Easton, Pa., told The Times.
Some politicians have challenged social media companies to confront youth mental health issues, and how their platforms impact young Americans.
The Senate Commerce Committee held a series of hearings last fall after a Facebook whistleblower leaked internal documents about the platform’s effect on young users, and a bipartisan group of state attorneys general launched a probe into Instagram’s impact on children and teens weeks later.
“We must hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit,” President Biden said in his State of the Union address in March.