It is obvious to anyone with eyeballs that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on everyone and everything in various ways, and that because of it, many sacred and long-held traditions and institutions are changing. New York City is leading the charge in what I hope is not standard for other snowy states: Snow days are cancelled for the 2022 school year, to be replaced with remote learning.
This applies strictly to kids in the New York City school district, and as NBC 4 New York notes, they were relatively rare. But it’s a tradition treasured by kids—a beautiful day of freedom to do stuff like harass their parents a little bit and then go outside and make snow angels or try to bury their little sister in a snowbank. Now, snow days in New York City will be replaced by remote learning, which means that the small spots of reprieve that allowed children to be children will be filled by obligation.
That obligation extends to parents as well. Remote learning works “best” in situations where there is a parent (usually a mother) at home with no other obligations, who can drop everything at the whims of the weather to administer lessons to her children: Dr. Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, a professor at the New School (who has written for this website), told Jezebel in an email that this recent news is not only a blow to the kids, but to the parents, too. “Remote learning has been disastrous for many—despite the DOE’s false claims of its ability to ‘seamlessly’ transition online—and families have been strapped trying to care for and educate their kids,” she wrote. “Working parents will now have to make sure kids are on task all day, not to mention the loss of one of the small but sweet freedoms of childhood: a day off due to snow.”
Arguably, children have a lot of freedom, as they are not typically expected to do adult things like pay bills and worry about mortgages, But the hustle-and-succeed culture that might have propelled their parents to where they are has trickled down. A recent New York Times op-ed written by Emily Esfahani Smith points to the larger and pervasive issue of the pressure to succeed academically, which is affecting the teens of the nation and exacerbated in part by the isolation of the pandemic and remote learning. Initially, the pandemic was a bit of a reprieve for teens and other children who found themselves in their normal lives booked and busy with extracurriculars and other resumé-padding activities meant to propel them straight to a good college and then, I suppose, a good job. As schools across the country struggled to figure out remote learning in the early stages of the pandemic, the mental health of some students improved.
From the Times:
But when schools closed last spring, something unexpected happened — the well-being of these students actually improved. As classes and exams were canceled, grading moved to pass/fail and extracurricular activity ceased, they reported lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression compared with 2019.
Unfortunately, though, as remote learning became more codified and as students started to adjust to hours of Zoom, the stress, anxiety, and general agita that plagued them before returned, as the pressure to achieve at levels high enough to meet their parents’ expectations mounted. Success is still defined as having a good job, going to a good college, and making money, but the path to that narrow-minded view of success is littered with SAT prep courses and rugby practice, all in the service of achievement. This packed schedule leaves little time for children, even teens, to be children, which is just as valuable to a child’s life as all the other crap is.
For other, less privileged children, living in intergenerational households, with grandparents or older relatives, the pandemic has introduced an alarming precarity. It’s one thing to feel like an overworked executive at the age of 13, staring at a stacked datebook full of Mandarin lessons, viola intensives, and squash invitationals, but for the kids who might have experienced the loss of a parent or other important adult figure, the need for a real break is just as important, if not more so. Burnout, the scourge of millennials, or really, anyone with a pulse, strikes at any age, but the difference is that children don’t have the vocabulary to acknowledge it or, necessarily, the support structures in place to manage it. Three random days off on a few snowy days over the winter that are free of obligation would be a blessing—a chance for kids to unwind their little brains and to go be a kid, for once. Everyone needs a minute to catch their breath, but we should remember that the kids do, too.