There is something called the Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey. It is a public health research study that correlates the link between childhood adversity and adult illness. More specifically, mental and physical health disorders. Some of the adverse experiences measured are physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, alcoholism in the household, humiliation, mental disorders in the household, lack of support in the household, lacking of food, money, clothing, divorce, death in the family, and/or incarceration in the household. Take this moment and think back to your own childhood. These adverse experiences are not limited to the household even though many of them are asked if they were present in the home, rather than at school. Can you go through that list without checking off a single adverse experience? If you can, I applaud you and your family.
The fact is that, “one in eight children (12 percent) have had three or more negative experiences…” (1). Based on research done by physician and researcher, Vincent J. Fellitti along with epidemiologist, Robert Anda, MD., after interviewing over 17,000 patients, 64 percent answered yes to at least one category of the ACE Survey. Let’s reframe that, 64% experienced abuse and/or neglect, and/or humiliation, and/or lack of survival resources, and/or parent with mental illness, death in the family, and/or so much more. Think to your circle of friends, your community, how many stories do you know of one of those adverse childhood experiences? All of them? One of them? I, personally have an ACE score of 7/10.
These statistics are depressing as fuck. They are eye opening and saddening, I am aware. But stick with me.
How many of us feel physically ill when nervous? When you hear of a death in the family? How does your body react to that feeling of “fight or flight”? Think back to an instance where you became super alert because you felt threatened in some way, shape, or form. Someone walking behind you in a dark alley, someone rear-ended you, you got into a fist fight, you got jumped, you handed in your homework late. That heightened sense of awareness, that on the verge of a freak out because you don’t know what is going to happen in the next minute, the next hour, the next day.
That physical and emotional stress, causes inflammation in the body. Your hormones freak, your body freaks. It freaks out and it doesn’t stop freaking out, the inflammation doesn’t stop. The stress response does not shut off, it can’t because for that person they always feel threatened. For a child who is constantly under stress, their body remains inflamed. That inflammation causes illness. It may not cause illness immediately, but it will cause illness eventually. With enough stress on a child, the brain becomes inflamed along with the body. A child’s brain when inflamed causes it to lose neurons at a much faster rate than a “normal” child’s brain. Think about the effects that has on a child’s development. Language skills can slow down—for good. Cognitive development can become impaired, emotional and mental development-impaired, physical development- impaired. If there are less neurons in a child’s brain, there are less connections being made. Less vocabulary learned, less reasoning skills, less hand-eye coordination. Less connection to the world and to themselves. Think about how far that sets a child behind in life.
These adverse experiences translate into adulthood through chronic illness. These childhood experiences manifest themselves in the physical body through illness. Illness of the mind, the body, the heart. Literally the chances of heart disease increases drastically, diabetes, obesity, skin conditions, lupus, the list goes on. It is not a small percentage in which illness takes over, it is a significant one. For example, “Children whose parent’s divorce are twice as likely to suffer a stroke at some point in their lifetime.”(2). I am not saying that this is the reason for all adult illness. There are so many factors that are in play.
What I am doing is asking you to think about your actions. Think about every interaction you have with a child. I am not just speaking of your child, your friends child, but a child you interact with in a grocery store, one that you interact with at the local gym, wherever. We very rarely know the reality behind the closed door of a home. There is shame behind so much that we experience as people today. It prevents us from opening up to one another, it damages us just as much as the negative actions within the home. I share with you this information because the power of influence that we have on our youth is enormous. It is far beyond comprehension what it does to our physical well being.
As parents I ask you to shed your shit. It is easier said than done, it is a constant process but if you slap your child, ask yourself why. Why did you feel the need to physically harm your child? Did it trigger something from your childhood? More often then not, it did. Whether you, yourself got hit, or you don’t believe children should have an opinion because you were never allowed one. Why did you fight with your significant other in front of your child about money? Could the conversation have waited for a more appropriate time? Did you grow up with money lacking in the home? Do you feel insecure about your finances now because of your families finances growing up?
These are hard questions to ask yourself. For so many of us it is easier to shut that door and walk away. But when we have kids,those adverse effects trickle down. A child’s unconditional love is threatening for those who battle self-hate and childhood trauma. It brings up a lot of nasty shit. When you raise your hand or raise your voice, when you ignore a child’s inquisitiveness at a restaurant, when you roll your eyes at them for being goofy but you think it’s annoying and inappropriate, remember how you felt as a child. You don’t even have to go that far back, relate to how you feel on a daily basis when someone rolls their eyes at you, ignores you, or raises a hand at you.
What you may forget or may not realize at all is that in the instance your emotions take over and you react to your child, is that the stress of your reaction can physiologically alter that child’s biology.
I will say that again, your interactions with children can physiologically change their biology.
Think about that impact. Feel that in your heart for a second.
Getting over the hump together,
(1) Child Trends. (2013). Adverse experiences. Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=adverse-experiences – See more at: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=adverse-experiences#sthash.gJmr9iWV.dpuf
(2) Nakazawa, D. J. (2015). Childhood disrupted: How your biography becomes your biology, and how you can heal. New York, NY: Atria Books.