How Will Kids Remember the Pandemic?
The science of early memories gives some fascinating answers
I was almost six years old when the Gulf War broke. International coalition forces waged war in Iraq, and as a result, Iraq attacked Israel with long-range powerful Scud missiles. I vividly remember the sirens. I remember putting on the gas mask that was distributed to all Israelis due to fear of a chemical attack. I remember constantly having to rush to the “sealed room” — my parents’ bedroom, which had its windows sealed with duct tape to protect against a nerve gas attack. I remember an unfinished dinner with my favorite food that was interrupted by sirens. I remember eating lots of cookies while sheltering instead.
The thing is, I don’t remember being scared. I must have been, but I have no recollection of it. All the snippets of images and situations in my mind are not associated with any feeling, neither positive nor negative. I look back at the period of the Gulf War as one of an exciting adventure. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case in real time.
This got me thinking. My eldest daughter is now exactly the age I was back then. We both spent our fifth year on this planet living through an event that caused a major disruption to our lives. Both war and a pandemic are full of uncertainty, full of concern, and full of fear. Both are extremely difficult for a child to fully comprehend. So, how will my daughter, my younger son, and children all over the world remember this time?
In general—and this is not surprising—the older we get, the better we are at making and accessing memories. A 1962 study showed this to be true in rats as well. Rats of various ages were trained to fear one compartment in a double chamber. While all of the rats remembered not to get into the compartment immediately after training, the younger rats forgot three weeks later.
This phenomenon raised a question among researchers: Are younger children unable to form any long-term memories — or do they form them but simply forget them at a certain stage of development?