Almost Half of U.S. Kids Suffer Traumatic Stress, Study Shows
Teaching adults in their lives how to heal may be best first step, researchers say
THURSDAY, Dec. 11, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that almost half of U.S. kids experience traumas that can disrupt their development.
"This study tells us that adverse childhood experiences are common among U.S. children and, as demonstrated in adult studies, have lifelong impacts that begin early in life," study author Christina Bethell, a professor in the department of population, family and reproductive health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said in a Hopkins news release.
The researchers reached their conclusions by analyzing the results of a 2011-2012 survey of the parents of more than 95,000 children under the age of 17.
The survey looked at kids who experienced several types of trauma, such as living in extreme poverty, seeing their parents divorce, living with someone who was mentally ill or abused drugs/alcohol, having a parent who served time behind bars, or having a parent who died.
About one in five kids had experienced at least two of the listed traumas. These children were more than twice as likely to have trouble in school than other kids who didn't encounter trauma, although the study could not determine that the traumatic experiences caused the trouble in school.
These children were also much more likely to have a wide range of chronic health problems, including asthma, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, obesity and other health problems.
However, Bethell explained, parents and children can be taught to recognize the impact that traumatic events have on their lives and learn to practice resilience when faced with a challenge. For example, they can be encouraged to avoid despair by developing "a habit of hope" instead, she suggested in the news release.
In the study, children who had a chronic health condition that required doctor visits but had either learned or been shown even one aspect of resilience evaluated in the study were only half as likely to repeat a grade in school compared to those who had not learned this skill.
"Adverse childhood events don't automatically have to have long-term traumatic impacts for children," Bethell said. "Supporting and teaching the adults in children's lives to learn to heal from trauma and learn resilience themselves may be the most effective strategy to implement immediately."
The study appears in the December issue of Health Affairs.
For more about children and stress, try the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.