We would like to think that we as human beings have evolved and each generation thrives and has a better life than the previous one. Parents for the most part want their children to have more prosperous and easier lives than the one they have had.

But a study authored by Dr. Steven H. Woolf, a professor of Family Medicine and Population Health at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine discussed at a news briefing held by Ethnic Media Services, (EMS) indicates for over a decade, gun violence, drug overdose, vehicular deaths, homicide and suicide rates have been on the rise in children ages 10 to 19 and the probability of this precious population reaching age 20 is decreasing.

The study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that, in addition to guns, deaths among adolescents from drug poisoning rose 94% in 2020.

Every day in cities across the nation, there are teens dying from fentanyl overdoses. In 2021, 77% of all teen overdose deaths involved fentanyl.

Woolf put it frankly, “We’re now losing our most cherished population.”

It’s shocking to learn that children in the United States are dying at higher rates than seen 100 years ago. 

“The increase in drug overdose deaths began shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, around 2018 or 2019, as more and more children and teenagers acquired access to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids,” said Woolf.

“The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t cause this trend. But as we say in our report, it poured fuel on the fire. The rates increased very dramatically during this time period, between 2019 and 2021.”

The statistics for deaths among children are alarming and should cause anyone to take pause.

“Deaths in those ages 10 to 19 increased by 39% for homicides, 114% for drug overdose deaths and 16% for car accidents. Firearms played a dominant role in this increase. They accounted for about half of the increase in all cause mortality that occurred at ages 1 to 19. Firearm deaths at ages 1 to 19 increased by 41%,” said Woolf.

In addition, a national survey was conducted. Kim Parker, director of Social and Demographic Trends at the Pew Research Center, found that parents were concerned not only with gun violence and the danger to their children, but their mental health as well. The Pew survey asked parents what types of concerns their children are facing.

“The top concern for parents by far was mental health. And we found that about 76% of parents said they were at least somewhat concerned that one of their children would struggle with anxiety or depression at some point. And 40% of parents were extremely or very concerned about that,” said Parker. “And so this just gives you a kind of context for the environment in which parents and children are operating these days.”

As difficult as it may be for many to believe, Parker confirmed that homicide is the leading type of gun deaths among children, regardless of the age of the child. “It’s true among teens, but it’s also true among the very youngest children when we’re looking at gun deaths.”

The studies found there are racial differences about the kind of gun violence children of color face and dramatic differences between race and gender.

“Our analysis showed the same thing as what Dr. Wolf found, which is that Black children and teens are far more likely than white, Hispanic and Asian children to die from gun related injuries,” said Parker. “There are racial differences in the types of gun deaths among children. In 2021, most gun deaths to Black children were homicides, whereas most gun deaths to white children were suicides.”

“The Black homicide rate was among young people with six times that of the Hispanic population, and 20 times that of the homicide rate in white youth and youth of Asian and Pacific Islander descent,” said Woolf. “Males across all racial ethnic groups are at higher risk of dying from these deaths than females. So the homicide rate among Black males was more than 60 times that of white females. So these ratios are very dramatic in terms of their disproportion.”

Schools are no longer viewed as environments immune to mass shootings and no longer viewed as guaranteed safe havens for children and teachers. Some children face bullying, which is a detriment to their mental health and other pressures that are left unchecked. There are suicides and shootings that cause parents to be uneasy.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) claims to be committed to making schools safer. The gun rights lobby — following the mass shooting at Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two adults dead — dismissed the incident. They described the 18-year-old shooter as a “lone, deranged criminal.” They failed to address that the shooter bought the assault weapon an AR-15 legally in Texas, where an 18-year-old can buy rifles and long guns.

“Decades of research, at least 20 years worth of research, now show that having a gun in the home increases the risk of a gun-related death,” said Woolf.

“The tendency, I think, that really intensified during the pandemic was for people to go out and buy even more guns than they already have to, quote-unquote, ‘protect themselves’ from perceived threats that I think have been generated a lot by advertising and marketing by gun manufacturers and the NRA,” he said.

Racism is also at play. Our US history of white supremacy and racism is linked to attitudes and the Second Amendment. The National Institute of Health reports the higher rates of gun violence faced by Black and Brown Americans is directly linked to policies put in place for economically and socially marginalized communities, says Kelly Sampson, senior counsel and director of racial rustice for Brady United Against Gun Violence.

“There is an interplay between the sheer number of people who feel the need to arm themselves, and the way that we characterize threats and safety, that is sort of underlying all of the gun culture in society,” she noted, adding self-defense is “racially coded in American culture.”

“But what it’s saying about our society is that people are on such a hair trigger that just a basketball rolling into the yard is enough to set them off,” said Woolf.

Poverty has also placed the most vulnerable of children at great risk, said Mayra Alvarez, president of the Children’s Partnership. Parents, elected officials and everyone should feel a responsibility in taking care of children so that they equally have access to health care, food and safe environments to live. Action is needed to protect children. Alvarez says passing common sense gun reform will reduce gun deaths among the young.

“Every single one of our children needs to feel valued, to feel loved and to feel like they belong. Parents and families have a role to play: caregivers and educators, policymakers and community leaders. And for every single one of us — it is imperative that we consider the interconnectedness of many, many issues grappling [many] families’ ability to raise healthy, thriving children.

“I want to emphasize to you all that our children are dying from preventable causes. These are manmade reasons why our children are dying, not biological. And what it means is that our kids, they’re not gonna reach adulthood,” Alvarez candidly said.

“Too many of our children are dying sooner than they need to,” said Alvarez.

Diana Martinez contributed to this story.

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