Children Of The Recession: Psychological Impact

This was one of those stories that evolved while we were shooting. Our assignment was to look at the psychological impact of the recession on young people for our network-wide series, "Children of the Recession." As we conducted background research we chatted with psychologists who spoke to the idea that in the early stages of development any changes can be disruptive to young people. We decided to focus our piece on teenagers for whom "fitting in" is particularly important.

We set out to profile one teenage girl, Kristen Beltran, who lives in Montclair, Calif. When we visited her school, Montclair High School, we saw how schools are becoming the first line of defense for many students when their parents are no longer able to provide as much at home. Our story started to shifted focus a bit to reflect some of the stories we heard at Montclair High.

CBS Evening News Producer Karen Raffensperger had identified Kristen as a person to profile after she came across her blog entries. Kristen vented her frustrations about the impact of the recession on her own life. Her dad (a welder) is not working as much these days and that has strained the family's finances. At 15 years old, she'd love to get a job to help her parents pay some of their bills, but her parents will not let her because they want her to focus on schoolwork.

On the front stoop of their home, Kristen's dad admitted to me that tension is growing within the family. Kristen's mother Betty explained, as we sat around a table in the back yard, that it's "our job as parents to protect our children." For Betty and her husband "protecting the kids" means keeping some of the specifics about family finances between themselves. However, Kristen says that can be counter-productive as she's aware of what is going on and only feels more helpless.

At Montclair High we met one of Kirsten's classmates, Faith Herrera, who was also feeling helpless. Faith showed us the house that her family had recently lost due to foreclosure. "It seemed that our family was going through a great life," Faith told me, "and then my dad lost his job, and after that everything came tumbling down." Faith had hoped to attend "the college of (her) dreams" but instead will go to a community college because of the financial crunch.

As Karen Raffensperger and I worked on this story we saw how the longer-term goals (i.e. college plans) were being affected but also how teachers were stepping in to fill some of the short-term needs. I sat down to interview three teachers and one academic counselor at Montclair High and heard that kids are often more distracted in classes, bring adult worries into schools, and sometimes cannot afford the basic tools needed for an education.

Christina Martinez, an academic counselor at Montclair High, told me "we keep extra swimsuits, backpacks, alarm clocks, school supplies, stacks of papers. We give those things out, and it's pretty regular."

Teacher Melissa Smith-Wilson added that she'd recently given kids at the school shoes. "Need a pair of shoes?" she recounts, "Here, have a pair of shoes. They're like 'Oh, we're hungry'... (so we) buy 'em lunch."

Our story on Evening News is about how teachers are increasingly stepping in to fill some of the gaps, and how a candid dialogue between parents and their kids can go a long way to help ease some of the pressures of the recession. One psychologist told us that a recession can either have a negative impact, or a positive impact, depending on how student's (and their parents) deal with the pressure.