Nurturing and protecting children’s health and wellbeing
By Paul Richard
The SHINE Initiative
If you’ve faithfully or even sporadically watched the television series “The X-Files,” you’ll be familiar with the message at the beginning of each episode that informs us “The Truth Is Out There.”
That mantra can also be applied to our health and how what we experience throughout life, and especially as children, can significantly impact our behavioral, emotional and psychological development.
So much has been discovered – and continues to be discovered – about brain development, and the social determinants that can have profound influences on a child’s emotional development.
Last night’s presentation at Worcester Technical High School of the film “Resilience: The Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope”, reminds us that “childhood should be a time of joy and innocence, but for many children it’s just not.”
Physical and verbal abuse, neglect, substance use, parental absence, divorce and separation, poverty, homelessness and other stressful living conditions can result in Adverse Childhood Experiences – more commonly known as “ACES.” The consequences can be life-altering.
Children who suffer multiple ACES are three times as likely to suffer depression. They are also at far greater risk for addiction, heart disease, obesity and several other detrimental health conditions. Life expectancy is also dramatically reduced.
So now that these alarms have been sounded, what can be done to chart a path toward healthier futures for our young?
As was articulated in the film, “If you can get the science into the hands of the general population they will invent very wise actions.”
Assuming only a scant percentage of the local, regional, national and universal population are familiar with “ACEs” and their consequences, perhaps we begin by equipping the adults who serve as caregivers to children – namely parents, grandparents, teachers, pediatricians, healthcare workers, clergy, coaches, etcetera, etcetera – with as much information and knowledge as possible about the potentially damaging effects of adverse childhood experiences.
For those children who’ve already been exposed- or will be exposed – to “ACEs”, let’s fully implement screening tools and interventions that can properly address and help reverse negative behaviors and emotions.
This will require investments of time, money, and human capital, but it is so well worth it. We may not eradicate all adverse health conditions, but we can minimize the risk factors that lead to these undesirable and unwanted behaviors.
Imagine? A community with fewer and fewer young people likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, obesity, eating disorders, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. As these children evolve into teens and young adults, fewer and fewer likely to engage in self-harm, to have thoughts of suicide, or to self-medicate and become addicted.
Imagine again? These same children, teens and young adults, becoming parents themselves with the knowledge, experience and resources at their disposal to nurture and protect their children from the consequences of Adverse Childhood Experiences.
Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, a principal figure in the film, calls it “Ordinary magic with extraordinary results.
I call it RESILIENCE fueled with RESOLVE. “The Truth is Out There.”