Parents assumed that better times would be ahead once concerns about COVID waned. But they aren’t here yet.

Runaway inflation is taxing family budgets today and creating tremendous concerns about what economic crisis might be around the corner. Violent crime has spiked; people are pouring in, unchecked, over our southern border. The war in Ukraine and an increasingly aggressive China make the world seem dangerous and, worse, the United States is unprepared to handle coming challenges.

Parents feel helpless. Worse, we feel responsible for how terribly we have let our children down.

Statistics show a precipitous decline in children’s mental health and lost learning. We made our children carry a heavy burden during COVID, even long after we knew that they weren’t meaningfully at risk from the virus. Many parents were shocked to see what kids were being taught, and not taught, when the public schools were shut down for in-person learning. We were not only horrified but felt convinced that we had complacently placed trust in our school leaders before “Zoom school” opened our eyes.

There is little we can do as citizens — at least until the next election — to influence the direction of our economy or America’s position in the world. But we can do something about the environment that surrounds our kids. That’s why there has been an explosion in parental engagement in school board meetings, elections and education debates around the country. Our school system is supposed to be responsive to parents and their communities. We know that our voice can and should make a difference there.

Concerns about the encroaching gender ideology have grown alongside concerns about the role and priorities in our public schools system. I didn’t know that my children were being asked their pronouns at the start of classes until I heard it on Zoom. A few years back, gender dysphoria was a condition that one heard about rarely, since it affected a relatively small share of children. Today, the number of children identifying as a gender that doesn’t align with their biological sex has exploded. A recently published study reports that, until recently, gender identity variations were extremely rare: an estimated two to 14 cases per 100,000 adults. Now, between 2% and 9% of U.S. high school students identify as transgender or gender diverse.

Why is this happening now? A confluence of events are likely to have contributed: the isolation and absence of structured activities imposed on children during COVID, the drive (inside and outside of schools) to push kids to spend more and more time online, and a waterfall of messages — from television, social media, young adult books, and, yes, school officials — all of which encourage kids to consider if they, perhaps, might prefer to embrace a new gender identity.

The messages kids are receiving now are not simply to treat others kindly regardless of their gender, sex or sexuality. They go further and seem meant to loosen kids’ association with their own sex and gender and pressure them to question who they are.

Parents know our kids are vulnerable, especially those entering the very difficult preteen and early teen years, when their bodies are changing, hormones are raging, and many struggle with the transition from childhood to adolescence. More and more parents today hear stories — personal stories from people they know, not ones in the media — of parents sidelined by schools when their preteens expressed gender confusion. A single expression of gender confusion by a child can now initiate an official “gender support plan” protocol outside of parents’ control, and which invites more confusion and mental anguish, and can lead to lasting physical damage if the child is given actual medical treatment.

Parents care about the economy. We care about America’s position in the world and the safety on our streets. But we care most about our children. We see them personally threatened by an aggressive and increasingly omnipresent gender ideology movement, so we are on watch and have made this issue a top priority.