The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown response has had a disproportionate and damaging effect on the lives, mental health and well-being of young people globally. They have been neglected in policy-making and their needs have been subjugated to those of adults which contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Here, I argue that the needs and rights of young people must come first to protect their health, mental health and futures. If we do not do this, we will let down a generation of children who will bear the brunt of the fallout of the economic burden of the global COVID-19 crisis. © 2020 The Authors. Child and Adolescent Mental Health published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.