The Covid kids who spent high school in their bedrooms are going to college | Panda Anku


I could still see the blinking green light from the GPS tracker peeking out from under the back seat of the car. So I stood on my tiptoes and tried to see if it would be visible to someone 6ft tall.

The GPS tracking app was loaded onto my phone, and we were ready to push an eight-hour caravan north to accommodate my firstborn, curly-haired, hockey-playing, computer-building freshman in his college dorm.

How did I get here? covid.

Just eight years ago, during the last week of summer vacation, I gave my children the trip of their lives (at this point in their lives): a 495-foot walk to the corner store on Capitol Hill, ALONE. They were 7 and 10 years old and I risked arrest by letting them go.

Why I let my kids run to the corner store – and why other parents should do the same

In 2014, moms like me made national headlines when America decided to criminalize child independence. Moms in Florida and South Carolina were jailed because their children, 7 and 9, played alone in their neighborhood parks. In December of that year, Silver Spring’s mother, Danielle Meitiv, was investigated for child neglect when her children – 6 and 10 – were walking home from a park. And the nation dubbed her a “free-range mom,” picking apart her parenting.

It’s bogged the minds of every Generation X parent as we wondered – what happened to us?

We’re the ones who grew up with house key chains so we could go home from school, get involved and play until our parents got home.

When I was 8 years old, I walked to the bus stop myself and rode my bike more than a mile for my mom to go shopping. My father left me and another child in the car when we were 4 while he was visiting my mother at the coffee shop where she was a waitress. We ate his Marlboro Reds. But nobody kidnapped us.

The nation has grappled with something that was unwritten and changed from generation to generation – when can children be alone? It is 6 years old in Kansas, 8 in Maryland and 14 in Illinois. Thirty-nine states have no specific age on the books and play it on a case-by-case basis.

As the boys grew up, we tried to keep reminding ourselves of the lessons independence had taught us. Both had known the DC Metro since middle school, they could organize their own meals, take themselves to exercises and appointments. And then everything ground to a halt and they were locked in their bedrooms, chained to their computer screens. Thank you Covid

That summer, at ages 15 and 18, the independence growth trajectory began to skyrocket again with the graduation gift she wanted—a trip to New York City without her parents.

“Are you serious?” asked a concerned friend who hasn’t spent much time in New York. “Aren’t you afraid someone will hurt you?”

I laughed. “The greatest danger they face is each other,” I replied.

And sure enough, by day two they knew the subway, found a great comic book store in the East Village, and started texting me angrily, complaining about who was taking up too much room on the bed in the economy hotel, who hogged their desk and how they squandered their budget on a restaurant that big brother insisted on but little brother didn’t really like.

“So eat cheap tomorrow,” I replied. (Okay, I’ve tracked her location via debit card spending history, but tried to keep it cool.)

Despite the fraternal argument, both said it had been the best part of their summer.

Then came another big test. This was for me and my husband: College.

The college class of 2026 is another cohort tweaked, stunted and fried by the pandemic. Students like my son spent a third or even half of their high school career in their bedroom, online, with their parents in the next room. Those big leaps into independence, the milestones of maturity that come with surviving high school, were largely absent. Now colleges are welcoming students who might be 18 in calendar years but are 15 or 16 socially and emotionally and are caught in the pandemic amber of second year.

Returning to school in the middle of the pandemic has been strange for kids — and lonely, too

So it was that I stuck a magnetized GPS tracker under the seat of my son’s car, still concerned that all those early independence lessons weren’t enough, that these Covid years were stifling him and that once thriving independence was withering away. what happened to me

We drove the trailer all the way to Massachusetts and I cried for most of the drive, especially as we passed minivans littered with bike racks full of small, brightly colored bicycles. How was that so fast? The GPS tracker icon on my phone’s home screen mocked me. I was a free range scammer.

“Mom, he’s not dying,” said his younger brother.

Moving-in day was a spectacle—flags and banners flew, peer mentors jumped in to help freshmen unload suitcases, lamps, and duffel bags, music blared in the quad and dormitories. Carrying his main work into the dorm – a water-cooled custom PC he had saved up for and built himself – a high school student, noticing the size, said, “Whoa, cool PC! What graphics card do you have in there?” He was so happy and proud when he broke out of the pandemic chrysalis that nearly swallowed him that he had found his people.

This is everything we wanted, everything we hoped for as parents. He did it.

“Let’s go to your car for a moment,” I told him before the big goodbye. I opened the back door, reached under the seat, and unclipped the blinking GPS. I handed it to him.

“Mom,” said my son. “For real?”

I exhaled wet, snotty tears through lap 48. “I’m sorry,” I told him. “It’s just so hard.”

He turned off the tracker and pocketed it. “Thank you,” he said. “But I am fine.”

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