Experts reveal stress, trauma impacts kids’ development; urge adults to foster resilience
WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Now more than ever, both parents and professionals struggle to understand the complex and continued impacts of chronic stress and trauma on a child's brain development.
The documentary, Paper Tigers, based in Walla Walla, sparked renewed interest in the effects of chronic, overwhelming stress and trauma on children’s development.
That's why hundreds of parents, educators, mental health workers, and others gathered at Whitman College in Walla Walla for the Beyond Paper Tigers Conference Wednesday, to learn about youth mental health and trauma-informed care.
Action News sat down with the keynote speaker, Dr. Ken Ginsburg, to find out what we can do as a community to impact our children.
"Part of the problem we have is we roll our eyes when we see teenagers, we cross the street. We expect them to be selfish and thoughtless,” Ginsburg explained, “Absolutely not, teenagers are amazing people who have an idealism that makes them really set to repair the world."
Ginsburg is a pediatrician specializing in Adolescent Medicine at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He practices social adolescent medicine – medicine with special attention to prevention and the recognition that social context and environmental stressors affect both physical and emotional health.
"The kids who make it are the kids who have had at least one adult, and more is better, who believe in them without condition and who hold them to high expectations," Ginsburg said.
Without condition doesn’t mean allowing children to do wrong.
“Without condition means I stand with you, I stand beside you, my support is unwavering,” he explained.
While Walla Walla might be a small community, Ginsburg said it is a model for the country.
"People in the country are watching this city because it was a community-based effort to have the kids rise," he said.
Through efforts by the Children's Resilience Initiative, Walla Walla is helping support its children on a community-wide basis with trauma-informed care being implemented in schools, with law enforcement and public institutions.
"And that's rare," Ginsburg said.
Studies show when kids are exposed to chronic stress and trauma, like physical and emotional abuse, neglect or violence, they're more likely to develop serious health problems later in life.
The stress hormone, cortisol, is public health enemy number one. Scientists have known for years that elevated cortisol levels interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease, just to name a few.
"We know that this actually changes their brain, their behavior, and their biology, even the genes they pass along to their children," Ginsburg said.
As such, early experiences are an important public health issue. Much of the foundational research in this area has been referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
Adverse Childhood Experiences have been linked to risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential, and early death, according to the CDC.
However, Ginsburg said there's a huge body of research that’s showing all of these risk factors can be offset if there is one loving adult by a child's side. More often than not, that stable, caring adult is a teacher.
"If we support kids, if there are other adults in kids’ lives who are there to protect them, kids end up looking like everyone else,” he said. “Even when they've been through things."
Ginsburg said adults should focus on building resilience in young people.
"And what kids need is to be loved," he said. "When we love them, they learn they are worthy of being loved, and that changes their life."
Love is seeing somebody as they deserve to been seen, as they really are, not based on the behavior they might be displaying, he explained.
He said love changes children's ability to parent and raise the next generation and contribute to our communities in the future.
To learn more about building resilience in children and teens visit fosteringresilience.com
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