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Editorial & Opinion

An open letter to Dan McGowan: Children are not at fault, the government is

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“Kids do need to stay home, but children are not at fault for our government’s failure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to all age groups.”


On Monday morning in “Rhode Map,” the Boston Globe’s daily Rhode Island newsletter, Dan McGowan shared a message that was both condescending and politically irresponsible.

With the subject line, “Dear kids, don’t be stupid when you’re on the coronavirus vacation,” the message – exclusively directed towards young readers – implored children to stay home and “play more Fortnite or NBA 2K” to avoid transmission of the virus. Holding children responsible for widespread transmission misses the point: governments – by suppressing information, refusing to acknowledge the severity of the virus, and failing to take adequate measures to stop its spread—are causing unnecessary suffering and death.

Rhode Map is a key news source for tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders, and McGowan’s reporting on COVID-19 and other issues is typically thorough and thoughtful. Monday’s newsletter was an exception, and given its reach, we thought it necessary to respond with this open letter.

McGowan’s tone reflects a common trope in mainstream media coverage of global crises: a focus on the individual behaviors of young people, that obscures the public’s understanding of structural problems. Instead of centering the political decisions that have accelerated the spread of the virus, this was a cheap shot at a generation of people who have inherited a scary world: crushing student debt, a rapidly intensifying climate crisis, skyrocketing costs of living, increasingly expensive healthcare, and now, a global pandemic. For many students in Rhode Island, the so-called ‘coronavirus vacation’ means a sudden loss of meals, care, internet access, and, for college students, housing and healthcare.

Kids do need to stay home, but children are not at fault for our government’s failure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to all age groups. Government officials in the United States and around the world have made decisions that put people of all ages at risk.


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McGowan’s message invokes the inaccurate stereotype that people our age are especially self-centered. “We know you feel fine and you want to flex your new outfit, but it’s not about you. It’s about everyone around you,” he writes. We certainly agree with the sentiment that young people should stay home for everyone’s sake. There is no evidence, however, that young people are more likely to ignore the protocols of ‘social distancing’ than people of other ages. Focusing on our supposed collective entitlement misunderstands the problem.

We need to be building solidarity across generations to face this crisis together, not mocking young people. We encourage people of all ages to listen to the recommendations from the CDC, to check in with loved ones, to contribute to mutual aid networks as you are able, to ask for the support that you need, and to encourage your governments to put the well-being of people before profit or political gain.

Signed,

  • Rachael Baker
  • Michael Kearney
  • Colin Kent-Daggett
  • Julia Rock
  • Eli Spencer Heyman
  • Sara Van Horn