Kids Psychologically Scarred By Recession

Seth Doane
Children of the Great Depression were psychologically marked by the experience of living in difficult times, but what effect will the current deep recession have on this generation of youngsters?

CBS news correspondent Seth Doane appeared on The Early Show Tuesday to talk about the psychological effects the downturn is having on children, as part of the ongoing, network-wide series, "CBS Reports: Children of the Recession."

Doane says the impact isn't easily quantified, but can be seen in the everyday lives of America's youth.

Doane told Early Show co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez the recession can either have a negative or positive effect, depending on how students and their parents deal with the pressure.

"This was one of those stories that evolved while we were shooting," Doane wrote on CBS, "...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."

Doane and his team 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," he wrote. "Our story started to shifted focus a bit to reflect some of the stories we heard at Montclair High."

Doane wrote that 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, Doane wrote, 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 Doane that tension is growing within the family. Doane added that Kristen's mother Betty explained, as they 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 told Doane that can be counter-productive as she's aware of what is going on and only feels more helpless.

At Montclair High Doane met one of Kirsten's classmates, Faith Herrera, who was also feeling helpless. Faith showed the team the house that her family had recently lost due to foreclosure.

"It seemed that our family was going through a great life," Faith told Doane, "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 Doane worked on this story, he wrote that they saw how the longer-term goals, such as college plans, were being affected, and how teachers were stepping in to fill some of the short-term needs.

Doane interviewed 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 Doane "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."