Negative things that happen to us create shadows that we carry forever. This is especially true for children. The study of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) has linked negative experiences to long-term harm, and that harm is compounded when the number of negative experiences increases.
The original 1998 CDC-Kaiser Permanente study showed a direct correlation between ACEs and future negative health complications. Since then, they have been linked to future violence victimization and perpetration as well as limited employment opportunities.
ACEs are grouped into three categories – abuse, neglect and household dysfunction – and a focus in the social services and humanitarian spaces has been to counteract these experiences by providing safe and nurturing environments and helping children build emotional skills and resilience.
During COVID our society has been subjected to an incredibly large number of negative experiences. There is the trauma caused by job loss and resultant financial insecurity, trauma caused by long-term health issues and deaths from COVID, trauma caused by events marked by social and racial injustice, and trauma caused by social isolation and loneliness. These experiences affect whole families, but children perhaps bear more than we realize.
A common assumption is that children are resilient. That is generally true but today they need extra support. Don’t assume everyone is OK. Check in with the children in your orbit. Encourage them to talk about their feelings. And if you yourself are struggling, your offer to help others – young and old – may make you feel less lonely
Our use of phones, social media and the web both connects and disconnects us. It’s hard to think of COVID without considering the positive impact of these tools. But like any tool, they can be misused and can actually increase feelings of loneliness among kids because so many online interactions are based on status and likes and can generate shallow friendships. Many children are susceptive to bullying and low self-esteem in these settings.
So talk to youngsters and teenagers about how they are feeling about their digital world and help them make it a positive experience.
Two great pieces of social media advice for all of us in helping create a better online environment:
- Small acts of kindness online can go a long way toward lifting spirits.
- Stop and think before you post. Think how your comments will be perceived.
It will take intentionality to mitigate some of the long-term COVID emotional consequences. Let’s try to shorten these shadows together, for our children and for ourselves.