By Lisa Senecal
It’s decision time. The moment we ask ourselves individually and as a nation who and what is worth saving because our kids are drowning in trauma, particularly girls, LGBTQ teens, and Black and Hispanic youth. Maybe we’re beyond the point of searching for solutions together. If I were a pessimist, I might join the “let it burn” crowd, but I do not believe we have entirely forgotten who we are - or how to treat others with humanity and empathy. Anti-democratic forces in our country today hope that we have forgotten and strive to use fear and hate to divide us, turning American against American.
First, the bad news…
In February, the CDC released its annual “Youth Risk Behavior Survey.” The jaw-dropping data shows teen girls in America are “engulfed in a growing wave of violence and trauma,” with dramatic increases in online harassment and bullying, sexual assaults, and rapes. Girls, experiencing various forms of harm inflicted on them, are also increasing their attempts to harm themselves. The same is true for teens of color and those questioning their sexual orientation.
This should not come as a surprise because it is not a coincidence that women and girls, people of color, and LGBTQ folk are the segments of our population under constant assault from America’s fascist movement. Across the country, these groups of children are aware that GOP state and national political campaigns are driven by the necessity of forcing post-pubescent girls who become pregnant to bear children. Their LGBTQ peers are told their very existence is too dangerous to acknowledge, as is the American history of people who look like their Black classmates. Then layer on top of that excuses our kids hear from the Right for why it is unavoidable that active shooter drills have become more critical to their survival at school than the fire drills of my youth.
To ignore the alarming data on America’s children is to miss the continuing fascistic authoritarian movement, not only in our country but worldwide. You would also miss the role that media on the right, not only Fox News, plays in advancing this movement and the impact it has had in reshaping our culture in the past seven years. No, defeating Trump in 2020 was not the end. And, as I hope many are finally coming to realize, Ron DeSantis, with his war on Disney for refusing to discriminate against LGBTQ folks, his “Don’t Say Gay” policies just extended through the 12th grade, and his six-week abortion ban, is not a GOP pivot to something better or even different.
Trump might have unleashed the beast almost eight years ago, but this is so much bigger than Trump now. Now it’s about feeding the beast he created and helping it grow. They nourish it was a rancid diet of hate, fear, and grievance because the base has been taught through non-stop lies that the beast is there to protect them and make them powerful. So, while our children are facing real trauma, here’s what’s on the mind of Republicans and their media proxies:
· Men are being emasculated and need to reclaim their dominant role in society
· Whites are being replaced in society, economically, and politically by people of color, especially immigrants, with the goal of repressing the rights of Whites.
· White Christian Nationalist/Christo-fascist “values” need to be imposed on all areas of our lives, including sexual orientation, gender identity, reproductive rights, women’s roles in society – both inside and outside the home, and, of course, white dominance
· Reacting with violence and aggression is an unavoidable and reasonable response to feeling politically, socially, or economically at risk (as long as you are not a woman, BIPOC, or LGBTQ+)
Most of the analysis, thus far, of the latest “Youth Risk Behavior Survey” conducted annually by the CDC assumes that the COVID-19 pandemic and related school closures and lockdowns are largely responsible for the startling deterioration of teen mental health among teen girls, LGBTQ youth, and non-white teens. I have no doubt that the pandemic is a contributing factor, but the beginning of the slide predates the pandemic. COVID also fails to explain why these groups are faring much more poorly than boys.
The report includes this most recent data about teen girls: 30 percent drank in the past 30 days, nearly 20 percent have experienced sexual violence - and 14 percent have been raped. Unsurprisingly, poor mental health and thoughts of and actions toward suicide are way up. Suicide plans were made by 25 percent of teen girls, and 60 percent had “persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness.”
To give some perspective, that is a 60 percent increase in teen girls considering suicide over the past decade and a 27 percent increase in girls reporting forced sex in just two years. This isn’t an acceleration in the percentage of girls reporting forced sex – it’s the first time since the CDC started collecting data that there has been an increase at all.
The data on LGBQ+ students is no less troubling. Data on transgender teens, unfortunately, was not collected though it will be in future surveys. Given the political climate, there is certainly no reason to believe trans teens are faring better. More from the CDC report:
[LGBQ+ teens] were also significantly more likely to experience all forms of violence. The differences in terms of mental health, compared to their peers, are substantial. Close to 70% of LGBQ+ students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the past year, and more than 50% had poor mental health during the past 30 days. Almost 25% attempted suicide during the past year.
Our country's history of failing and continued neglect of communities of color showed up in school and community safety data:
“[E]xperiences of violence by racial and ethnic groups show that Black and Hispanic students were more likely to not go to school because of safety concerns, suggesting exposure to environmental violence in communities and schools.
We can abandon our kids and pretend that swimming in a toxic concoction of white grievance, blatant racism, glorification of hypermasculinity, misogyny, and an aggressive anti-LGBTQ social and legislative movement championed by Christian Nationalists is traumatizing them, or we can look the beast in the face and figure out how to destroy, or at least defang it. The report makes recommendations, also based on data, to solve these crises, all of which are opposed by the 2024 GOP presidential frontrunners.
The harm to our children is already occurring and accelerating. What we don’t yet know is if today’s data foreshadow their future or if it is an ugly chapter that will be consigned to history – and if generations to come will be allowed to learn about it. Here’s the good news that many of us seem to forget: Those of us alive today are the creators of that history. We are no different from so many before us who, in their time, seized the constant opportunities to stand up, speak out, get involved, call out the lies, ask the questions, push back on the policies, support the candidates, show up at the polls, and demand a better future. Average, everyday, normal people coming together created America’s history of progress. We can do it again.