Posted on / Dr. Susan Wilder

First Do No Harm: Protecting Children from Trauma

As a regular contributor to MASK Magazine, and a supporter of their mission to engage and educate parents about the issues facing youth and to empower children to make safe, healthy choices, Dr. Wilder recently submitted an article discussing adverse childhood events and the impact on well-being. This is a repost of that article.

The Impact of Adverse Childhood Events

Adverse childhood events (or ACEs), including episodes of verbal, physical, sexual abuse, neglect, isolation, or family dysfunction from poverty, discrimination, mental illness, alcohol, or drug use are exceedingly common. 

One in eight children experience four or more ACEs, a risk for significantly shorter life expectancies and many serious long-term health consequences. 

Consequences of ACEs

As shown in the infographic below, the consequences of ACEs can be physical and psychological. They can affect pregnancy or disrupt normal childhood development, and trigger high risk behaviors including smoking, alcoholism, drug abuse, and sexual promiscuity. 


The Role of Family Physicians

Family Physicians are the only specialty, besides Psychiatry, trained in family dynamics and counseling. We observe that most families experience challenges at some point that could cause adverse childhood experiences. 

Although I grew up in a wonderful large middle class family, I scored 3 on the Harvard ACE quiz

Ultimately, we ALL have the capacity to become impaired or lose our temper and most have witnessed the same growing up. 

Add to that the rampant bullying unleashed by social media and cultural rage stoked by so-called “news” and the risks become greater. As my young daughter stated, “I know about sticks and stones but the names hurt more than anything.”

The Importance of Supportive Relationships 

Supportive relationships are one of the greatest protective factors helping kids overcome ACEs. 

A grandparent or other caring family member, or even a teacher or friend can be a source of refuge for an at risk child. 

Programs like Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America or Boys & Girls Clubs, community services, and skill-building opportunities also offer support to improve a child’s resilience in the face of adverse childhood experiences. 

One of my friends, whose father was repeatedly jailed for drugs or violence, and whose mother was schizophrenic, endured a horrifically dysfunctional childhood, including often going without food, heat, or electricity, and eventually losing a sibling to suicide. A caring teacher helped this child escape at age 13 and eventually become a physician. She was lucky. 

We can all help by seeking help ourselves for substance abuse or mental health challenges that impact our parenting, being that compassionate adult in a child’s life, and supporting organizations that help high risk children thrive despite the odds stacked against them.

 

**Harvard ACE Quiz: https://developingchild.harvard.edu/media-coverage/take-the-ace-quiz-and-learn-what-it-does-and-doesnt-mean/

*Infographic from: https://www.wavetrust.org/adverse-childhood-experiences

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