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Culture

A mom complained about Highlights magazine showing kids in masks. Their response was perfect.

masks, highlights, children

Bethany Mandel wants Highlights to stop reminding her kids they're in a pandemic.

We're heading into year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we're all ready to be done. That doesn't mean we are done, of course. The virus and its various mutations don't give a flying fig how we feel, and with a new variant knocking on our door, we're still knee deep in mitigation measures to try to keep our healthcare system from sinking. That means vaccines, limiting group gatherings and, of course, masking in public places.

It's hard to believe that there are still anti-maskers at this point in a viral pandemic, but here we are. And not only do some of these folks not want to wear masks, they don't even want to see people wearing masks.

A mom on Twitter even went so far as to call out the popular children's magazine Highlights for including illustrations that show children wearing masks. Bethany Mandel shared a photo of a page of the magazine that showed a child playing the piano on a stage and kids in the audience behind the piano wearing masks. She also shared the email she sent to the editor of the magazine.


"Stop with the mask illustrations," the subject line reads before the blunt opening, "Christine." (Christine French Cully is the magazine's editor-in-chief. I recall being taught to address professionals in a business letter with a bit more courtesy, but perhaps Mrs. Mandel's education omitted such things.)

Then she voiced her complaint:

"I understand the objective here: to normalize masking young children. That is not a message I'm sending to my kids. Masks are a temporary situation and on their way out the door. Getting these magazines with mask illustrations is a reminder of the broken world we live in. We get your magazine to be an escape, not a reminder of the reality we're forced to be living right now. I am planning to screen future issues, and if more of this content is present, we will be trashing them and canceling our subscription.

Best

Bethany Mandel"

If you think the complaint seems rather asinine considering we've been wearing masks for two years, you're not alone. Many, many snarky comments followed, but Highlights responded with what is probably the most perfect reaction.

In a tweet, Highlights wrote:

"We want our readers to see themselves and their experiences in our magazines, so we've included masks and acknowledgements of the pandemic to help support kids. As one child wrote to us, 'Kids need to know that they are not alone.' Like you, we hope that this will be over soon."

Simple, straightforward and honest. Including a quote from a child reader was a beautiful move, as was creating a sense of solidarity in the last line.

Mandel may think her kids want a magazine that will let them escape reality, but that's not what Highlights has ever been about. It's about helping kids become "creative, caring, curious, and confident." Part of being caring during a pandemic is wearing a mask to protect others. Part of being confident is dealing with challenges head-on, which is what we're doing when we listen to infectious disease experts and follow their advice.

Seeing reality reflected in an illustration is not going to harm kids. Masks are not evidence of a broken world—they are evidence of our collective efforts to mitigate a deadly pandemic. If anything, they are symbols of hope, of humans doing what they can to protect one another.

So much of this comes down to what we are choosing to teach our kids. My own kids have remarked more than once how happy they are to see people wearing masks at stores, how it makes them feel like they're surrounded by people who care and who are smart enough to follow the guidance of public health experts. Nobody likes wearing masks, but we understand why they're necessary.

We all want this to be over. But that won't happen if people keep ignoring the measures that can help us get there and denying the reality of where we are now.

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