Childhood Trauma and Its Effects on Adulthood
“Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events occurring before age 18.

ACEs include all types of abuse and neglect as well as parental mental illness, substance use, divorce, incarceration, and domestic violence. A landmark study in the 1990s found a significant relationship between the number of ACEs a person experienced and a variety of negative outcomes in adulthood, including poor physical and mental health, substance abuse, and risky behaviors. The more ACEs experienced, the greater the risk for these outcomes. Recent studies have shown that, in comparison to the general population, these children are far more likely to have experienced at least four ACEs.”
But kids are resilient, right? I bet you have heard that phrase many times. What exactly do people mean when they say that? It usually means that the person is doing better than expected for the situation they are in; they bounced back from a difficult experience. But is it really true? Not so much, according to Psychology Today’s Darcia F. Narvaez Ph.D. who says, “If you look at the whole picture of health and well-being, children are not that resilient. Believing in children’s “resilience” actually may be undermining parenting and social policy.” Children who experience adverse childhood events are at a higher risk of physical and emotional difficulties as adults.
Dr. Narvaez believes there are four reasons adults dismiss children’s needs by saying they are resilient and will bounce back. First, the parents themselves did not receive optimal care as children. She believes that when you basically grow up on your own, you learn to NOT get pleasure from caring for others and studies show that this poor parenting snowballs across generations. Secondly, our culture encourages self-centeredness, even among parents. Today, parents are encouraged to shape babies around their lifestyle, instead of parental self-sacrifice of the past. It starts with working to get a young baby to sleep through the night very early by introducing foods too soon or by letting them cry themselves to exhaustion. Studies show that both of these options come with poor results. Thirdly, we are told that holding a baby or young child too much will spoil them. Our ancestors thought differently. They frequently bundled children on their backs while doing their work. This close contact strengthened the bond with the parents. Lastly, she says we overburden families. Parents are holding down multiple jobs while also trying to care for the children. And on top of all that, we have the distractions such as social media and electronic gadgets that keep us from focusing on our children’s needs.
A recent Adverse Childhood Experiences study estimates that about 2/3 of American adults had some adverse experiences as children that negatively affect them today. Even with interventions, the effects of abuse, neglect and trauma are long-term. The US has epidemics of anxiety, depression, obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Many of these health issues can be linked back to adversity in childhood.
When we say children are resilient, we are trying to excuse our behaviors. Instead of aiming for such a low target, we need to raise the bar and aim for thriving children. Their needs must be met to thrive. Healthy, responsible caregivers, laughter in the home, positive social experiences, freedom to play, and good nutrition are just some of the things needed to thrive and overcome adverse events. What happens early in life wires your brain and body for your lifetime. Having at least one healthy, loving adult relationship in a child’s life can reverse some of the effects of experienced trauma. If we want our children to thrive and flourish, we must start with these healthy choices.
If you have experienced sexual abuse or domestic violence, Crisis Services of North Alabama is here to help you. We offer confidential, free crisis counseling, support groups, court advocacy, safe shelter, referrals and compassionate listening. Contact our Jackson County office at 256.574.5826 for an appointment today.

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