Thanks to our humanity, we all have commonalities and differences. For example, like me, you may enjoy cats more than dogs. However, just because we both prefer cats doesn’t mean we have other preferences in common. We might go to the same restaurant, order the same meal, and one of us says the meal was delicious and the other might say the meal wasn’t anything special. This is beauty of being human—no two of us are alike.
These differences, in part, explain why some people experience situations differently. The inability to predict or control outcomes of humanity is why there was a time in my life when I didn’t want to have children. My mom has an identical twin sister and yet my mom and her sister couldn’t be more different in so many ways. My older sister and I are just one year apart in age, and growing up I felt like I never understood her. She wanted to stand out and I wanted to blend in. She chafed against the popular kids and all I wanted was to be popular. How can two people with identical or similar genetics be so different? There’s no controlling the impact of nature and nurture. Thus, when I became a teacher, I saw all of these well-meaning parents who had children who made choices I knew their parent’s wouldn’t have made nor did they want their children to make. Since I knew that if I had children I would be unable to control them, I figured I could control if I had children. Obviously, since I’m now a mom of three, I had a change of heart. Nevertheless, I was never more aware of my inability to control children as I was when I became a mom.
Choosing how to respond to a situation is on my mind these days because while I do believe there is some ability for human beings to learn how to reflect on situations and make some conscious choices, children are not as skilled in this. What’s more, there is research to show that when children are exposed to certain situations, they are more likely to have negative health outcomes—physical and/or mental—later in life. Specifically, I’m talking about the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) research. “In 1998, CDC-Kaiser Permanente published a groundbreaking study that investigated the impact of ACEs on physical and mental health problems in over 17,000 adults. During the study, the adults were given a survey asking about 10 different types of ACEs and if they had experienced them prior to the age of 18. The study showed a direct correlation between ACEs and future health complications.” In other words, when children are exposed to certain adverse experiences, there is a high probability that the children will have negative health outcomes later in life. Moreover, the more of these negative experiences a child encounters, the more likely the child will have negative physical and or mental health problems down the road; there is a cumulative effect. As the website, www.acestoohigh.com shares,
Think of it as a cholesterol score for childhood toxic stress. You get one point for each type of trauma. The higher your ACE score, the higher your risk of health and social problems. (Of course, other types of trauma exist that could contribute to an ACE score, so it is conceivable that people could have ACE scores higher than 10; however, the ACE Study measured only 10 types.)
As your ACE score increases, so does the risk of disease, social and emotional problems. With an ACE score of 4 or more, things start getting serious. The likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease increases 390 percent; hepatitis, 240 percent; depression 460 percent; attempted suicide, 1,220 percent.
(Click here to take a quiz to find out your ACEs score)
COVID-19 did not exist in 1998 to take into consideration regarding an adverse childhood experience, but that does not make COVID-19 any less of an adverse experience for some children—particularly those who might have already had an ACEs score of three or higher. Just as there are some people who have a favorable response to cats and some who don’t, we need to remember that even though COVID may not be traumatic to all children, there are children who have been traumatized by one or more of the changes that have occurred as a result of COVID. Who’s to know if it was because a parent lost a job, a close family member or friend died or was hospitalized, the loss of learning due to closures, hybrid instruction, and/or quarantines. It may have been restrictions on interacting with friends, social distancing, or general depression caused by a fear of the unknown. The truth is that since we are still in the midst of the pandemic and we have not had a chance to study the impact of it in the short- or long-term, we do not have a real sense of how many students may be experiencing trauma caused by the pandemic.
Healthline.com published the post, “The World Is Experiencing Mass Trauma from COVID-19: What You Can Do” and quoted Katie Learn, “a licensed children’s therapist who specializes in childhood trauma and anxiety” as saying, “about a third of the children she works with seem to be experiencing this event as a trauma.” This was in September of 2020. Given that this was over a year ago, it is impossible to know what that the figure is now that we are approaching two years into this global crisis.
More recently the article, “Trauma in Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic” published on NYU Langone Heath’s NewsHub, says that
childhood trauma often involves a negative reaction, called traumatic stress, following an overwhelming, upsetting, or frightening experience—called a traumatic event—that challenges a child’s ability to cope. “Traumatic events are typically situations that are out of our control, beyond our usual experience, and cause us to feel as though our lives or the lives of others may be in danger,” says Adam D. Brown, PsyD, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone and member of its Child Study Center.
Furthermore, Dr. Brown says that responses to the trauma can manifest as:
Unwanted thoughts or images
Avoidance of reminders and problems with attention
Arousal and reactivity symptoms
Of course, these signs are not limited to children. Since we’re all human, these signs are just as likely to be prevalent among adults. This experience has not been easy for anyone and since it’s literally a global pandemic, no one could avoid exposure to the heightened stress this unexpected and unprecedented situation has caused. I’m sharing this information because I want to change the conversation. I want to highlight that if children or adults seem to be different now than they were in 2019 it’s because they are. If it seems like people are fatigued and stressed, it’s because they are. If it seems like people’s ability to cope is not what it once was, it’s because COVID has been an adverse experience for many. So rather than trying to trudge forward as though it’s pre-COVID or sally forth like it’s post-COVID, let’s remember that we’re still living through the pandemic and show each other grace, patience, and empathy. Due to our humanity, I am certain of two things. First, we cannot control the situation. Second, and more importantly, we can control how we treat each other during this situation.
P.S. The Catch of the Week is all of our veterans. Thank you for your service.