Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Childhood trauma may affect parts of brain

During a meeting at my internship we had a conversation about how we can empower youth to succeed when we can't change factors in their lives (i.e. IQ, Socio-Economic, etc). It's discouraging really, when you are familiar with the backgrounds that a lot of the youth we work with come from. I had a light bulb moment and everything I've been working for during the past six years as a Youth Worker became clear. I've been fighting to understand what I could do to help, because I am all too familiar with the circumstances that these youth are facing and the barriers they will have to knock down in order to succeed. It's a long journey, this has been a very long, challenging journey (that's not finished yet, but I'm getting there), and it's been because I can't quit. Somewhere along the line, someone (well a couple of people) told me I could do this. They helped me believe that there is a light at the end of this tunnel I've been running down for six years. The key to success is grit. Resilience, optimism, self-control, willingness to try new things, belief in your ability to learn and succeed are all things that we can control and contribute to our youth despite the circumstances we can't change.

If we can encourage youth, and be the voice that pushes them, and tells them that they can succeed. We can help them believe in themselves, and encourage them to keep trying, keep failing, keep getting back up, and that the road to success isn't an easy one, but it's possible.

We discussed something that sits in the pit of my stomach. There's studies that show that when something traumatic happens to a child (in the meeting she said 3 or more traumatic experiences) it sets them up to fail, more or less. When a child is in a toxic environment and trauma happens (physical abuse, emotional abuse, exposure to domestic violence, a parent who abuses drugs/alcohol) the body begins to produce adrenaline (which stays in the body for 30 min ). When this continues to happen the body is focused on being in defense mode, and it affects the front part of the brain. If this is happening consistently the brain doesn't develop the way a child who is not exposed to trauma would. This ultimately makes it harder for them to reason, make positive emotional connections, and other things we discussed but I can't remember.  (I googled the subject after the meeting and here's a brief article if interested

Let's not forget low self-esteem, and other effects from growing up in such an environment has on youth. If we are aware of what could be happening in the lives of our youth, we can be the cushion that they can rely on to provide them with healthy, supportive interactions. We can show them what normal is, so that they don't grow up feeling inferior, or that they aren't good enough. I had a student in my homeroom tell me he was stupid yesterday. Of course I told him that he wasn't stupid, he was incredibly smart--but I'm not sure if he believed me. If I tell him he's smart everyday, then at some point in his life (ten or fifteen years down the line, or hopefully sooner) he will remember that. That could be the difference between him applying for college, or opting out. I still remember every adult who believed in me, and who told me I was smart, that I was an awesome person, and every adult that believed in me, and encouraged me to be the best I could be. Unfortunately, I can count on one hand those people, and while I wish there had been more positive interactions with the adults in my life, those people helped change my life. It's so important that we never underestimate the power of our words and actions because we could be the defining factor in a child's life that can determine whether or not they believe they can succeed. Just something I thought could be useful in our daily work with youth.

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