The myth of child resiliency | In Focus

Trauma can start at a very early age.

Rich Elfers, “In Focus”

Rich Elfers, “In Focus”

“Children are resilient.” How many times have you heard that statement? Likely, you have never doubted it. But it is not true. It is a myth. (Sorrels, Barbara EdD. “Reaching and Teaching Children Exposed to Trauma”)

Our culture has created this lie to cope with reality.

According to Sorrels, “Our culture needs resilient children. We need very young children who can tolerate being away from home and from family for long periods of the day. We need children who can navigate smoothly between two homes because of a divorce in the family. We need children who can manage a fast-paced life with packed schedules and little down time to play….” Let’s examine each of these cultural rationalizations.

Why does our culture require that very young children spend long periods away from home and family? There are two reasons for this: The first reason is the perceived need to earn enough to make ends meet, requiring that both parents work.

The second reason can be traced to our capitalistic society. Capitalism has created products that are tantalizing to purchase, raising the cost of living. Do we really need expensive wide screen TVs, or would a smaller screen work just as well? Do we really need a newer, bigger truck? Is it really that important that we get a bigger home in a better neighborhood? These choices are often difficult to answer because they are predicated on what our values are.

It gets down to priorities. We all have them, it’s just that most of us are not really clear about what they are or what they should be. Do we determine our priorities, or do our previous decisions make that choice for us? Not setting up clear priorities means that culture decides them for us. For a society that values freedom and independence so highly, we can easily become slaves to the values of our culture, rational or not.

Requiring children to navigate between two homes due to divorce can create a great deal of trauma and stress, for both the parents and the children. Trauma has been defined as a feeling of helplessness, which can occur at any age.

Reasons for divorce are many: A spouse was unfaithful, or someone was drug/alcohol dependent or had poor work/character habits. No matter the cause, divorce traumatizes children. The trauma creates changes in brain chemistry that radically change children’s behavior. Often the changes have life-long consequences.

Why do we subject our children to packed schedules and little down time to play? When I was a child, my mother was a stay-at-home parent, at least until I reached teenage years. Often, we left the home to spend time in the neighborhood, playing ball games or spending time in the woods. Drugs had yet not appeared on the scene. There was no fear of lurking child molesters.

When these dangers did arrive, parents and society created organized activities to keep the children busy and supervised. This was a good thing, except that both children and parents became slaves to the scheduled activities.

When computers and video games became popular, new temptations arose with the new technology. Not only was vast new data now readily available, but also internet stalkers, pornography, and self-isolation. These often replaced group activities and socialization. By then, both parents were usually working, bringing us full circle in Sorrel’s assertion that “our culture needs our children to be resilient.”

My goal is not to subject you to a guilt trip. We’ve all made life decisions that we thought were right and necessary at the time. Often times we just do the best we can when we can’t see an alternative. Awareness of how vulnerable children are to trauma can help us become more attentive parents. It allows us to use new data to avoid or mitigate any damage. By making you aware of “the myth of resilient children”, we can begin to act upon recent research.

One of my daughters and her husband have adopted two children. Another daughter works with behavior disordered children in public school. To aid them, I have written precis (summaries) of two books on traumatized children. After reading Sorrel’s book above and another excellent book by Kayrn B. Purvis and David R. Cross’s called, “The Connected Child”, I have come to understand the potential lifelong effects of childhood trauma, especially for adopted children. These books offer ideas and strategies to help mitigate and heal traumatized children. You can read my summaries through the hyperlink below in lieu of reading the books themselves.

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