Nearly half of all children in the United States experienced a traumatic event in 2016, according to a recent report out of Johns Hopkins University. And 1 in 10 children lived through more than three such events, which include witnessing domestic abuse, being abused, losing a family member, or experiencing any tragedy that could have life-long ramifications for a child’s health.
The research also suggests that, while children across all socioeconomic classes are far too likely to experience at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs) per year, such events are far more common amongst children who live below the federal poverty line. (It is noteworthy that, since the researchers included “economic hardship” within the ACEs that this number is likely skewed).
When trauma strikes, the effects extend far beyond emotional health — they can also affect a child’s lifelong physical and sexual health. The most common traumas experienced amongst children in the United States were economic hardship and divorce, but other common ACEs included having an incarcerated or formerly incarcerated parent, living with a person who is suicidal, living with someone who has drug abuse issues, and becoming a victim of physical or sexual abuse.
Early traumatic experiences can alter a child’s brain structure and change the way genes express themselves. This isn’t just emotional or physical — it is deeply biological. Research has linked these traumatic events to physical conditions such as obesity and to mental health conditions such as addiction. Those who experience ACEs are also more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior at a young age and are more likely to end up pregnant as teenagers. These risks become especially prominent if the child who has experienced an ACE has not addressed the event in therapy.