Children in the United States today live in a country where their lives, well-being and future are of little concern to many of the adults with the power and responsibility to protect them.
It’s not just the acceptance of gun violence and the cowardly refusal to do anything to stop it. So many politicians in our country — mostly, but not all, Republicans — show cruel indifference to many other forces that hurt children, including poverty and the climate crisis.
Their actions show how little they care about the world they are leaving to future generations and how miserably they are failing at performing the most basic task of any guardian: protecting children from harm.
How so? It was the failure of adults in elected office to take an immediate and coordinated approach to contain the coronavirus, and the refusal of many so-called grown-ups to do something as simple as wear masks and get a vaccine, that led to wave after wave of infections that have killed 1 million people in the U.S. Though children were largely spared from the death toll, many lost parents, grandparents and other family members. Their education was a casualty too, with academic achievement and mental health suffering from remote learning and school closures that went on for far too long.
Those in power are doing practically nothing to slash air pollution that damages kids’ lungs and threatens to leave them and future generations with a ruined planet. Worse, some of those standing in the way in Congress are profiting off the burning of fossil fuels that threatens the very survival of our children. Scientists say it is now “more likely than not” that global average temperatures will rise more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels, the destructive rise in temperature that world leaders have pledged to work to prevent. It could happen by 2030, or by the time a toddler today turns 10.
The Supreme Court appears poised to take away abortion rights and the ability of people to decide when and whether to bring a baby into this troubling world. But once children are born, too many elected leaders seem to have no interest in their welfare. Here are just two recent examples: In January, after giving children a lifeline through an expanded child tax credit that sent families automatic monthly payments of as much as $300 per child, Congress let it expire and allowed millions of American children to slide back into poverty. And in another shameful and avoidable crisis, federal authorities failed to prevent a shortage in the supply of formula, the most basic sustenance babies need for survival.
Most painful of all, some politicians have worked to allow virtually unfettered access to guns, giving just about anyone the ability to kill our children at school, church or synagogue, at the supermarket, the mall or at home. Firearm-related deaths have been rising in the U.S. in recent years, and in 2020, guns overtook motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death among children and teenagers.
Many adults were still kids when a dozen students and a teacher were killed by gunfire at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. At the time, a mass shooting at school seemed unthinkable. Now this kind of tragedy is a staple of American life, an endless cycle of horror, grief and recurrence.
A decade ago a gunman killed 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. But the adults in Congress, who promised to take action, did nothing to prevent it from happening again. And it did, this time at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
Once again, too many leaders’ response to another massacre has been tragically insufficient: to offer prayers and condolences. To call for safety drills. To blame mental illness. But they won’t even talk about limiting the guns that keep taking our children’s lives.
Parents should be able to tell their children that they will be safe and believe that there is a limit to the amount of violence that U.S. leaders will tolerate. But we can’t. And that’s the most helpless feeling of all.