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The award-winning actress wrote about the crisis in an op-ed for USA Today, where she spoke to her own childhood trauma stemming from a training film about the dangers of nuclear war that she was shown in school in 1956. "I can remember only a few of the horrors that flashed before us: blaring sirens, cities reduced to rubble, screaming mothers with babies crying in their arms, spattered blood and camera pans over endless fields of destruction," she wrote, recalling that her 11-year-old self was suddenly burdened with the fear of death.
"This was a specific trauma that affected me," she continued, "but it was a collective trauma, too — an entire generation of American children was, in some form or another, taught to think of nuclear holocaust as a real threat."
Hawn noted that different generations of children have faced similar dread through a number of historic and frightening scenes, including 9/11. What's different about the COVID-19 era, however, is how widespread the fear is.
"The COVID era has changed our children’s lives in far more real, tangible ways — social distancing, school closures, daily mask use," Hawn wrote. "Kids are afraid of people, spaces, even the air around them — a level of constant fear not seen in decades."
Hawn concluded that "as a nation, we have failed our children" as a result of the lack of preventative care provided for youth mental health. And while we know more about neuroscience that would allow experts to proactively help children heal, resources continue to go toward reactive resolutions.
"There are everyday tools for mental fitness, just as there are for exercise and healthy eating; we just don’t teach them in any systematic way to our nation’s children," she wrote, noting her own research that went into the founding of her non-profit MindUp. "They don’t need to be over-diagnosed or shuffled through a system that screens and treats extreme cases after they are too late. When I saw those images of nuclear holocaust, I didn’t need a hospital visit. I needed someone to talk to, someone who could help me reason and harness the emotions that had almost immobilized me."
Hawn's organization has provided parents and teachers access to curriculums promoting mental health and fitness in children, which she recently told Willie Geist might help to "build a kinder world." The pandemic has only re-asserted that mission.
"We will survive the COVID-19 pandemic, but I’m not sure we can survive an entire generation whose collective trauma sends them hobbling into adulthood," she wrote in her op-ed. "If we get it right, today’s kids could emerge as the strongest generation America has ever produced."
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