CHICAGO, IL – The video showing a school police officer subduing an unyielding adolescent with force is yet another reminder that children act out. Sadly, that’s not news. What is news is that there are alternate, appropriate ways to deal with kids and trauma that benefit both the child and the community.
There are a host of reasons why a child might misbehave, and while the details of this young woman’s life are rightfully private, her attorney has made a public statement that she is in foster care and that is a sign that her nuclear family has been unable or unavailable to raise her.
Traumatic childhood experiences are the subject of many studies currently. Findings indicate that these experiences can have both immediate and lifelong effect on social and emotional health. Collectively called “Adverse Childhood Experiences,” or ACEs, these experiences can actually change the chemistry of a child’s brain and can be a cause for dramatic changes in a child’s behavior.
Prevent Child Abuse America recognizes the profound lessons from the ACE studies and has incorporated the findings into our work at every opportunity. We are particularly proud to be the non-profit partner to the producers of the film Paper Tigers, a documentary showing how the lives of troubled teens are changed when their school adopts a trauma–informed approach.
The title comes from a story the science teacher shares with the students when discussing the effect of early trauma on their brain after constantly being exposed to real danger or threats, the brain eventually fails to differentiate between “a paper tiger and a real one.” The result can be kids who lash out or otherwise exhibit terribly inappropriate behaviors.
Trauma-informed schools have moved from asking “what’s wrong with that child?” to “what’s happened to that child?” The school featured in Paper Tigers can be an inspiration and all schools, and communities, can consider taking a similar view to interacting with their students by engaging in the following steps:
(1) Reminding ourselves that one size does not fit all when it comes to students or behavior;
(2) Becoming informed about the ACEs, trauma and how they impact child development and behavior;
(3) Assessing our approach to discipline by asking ourselves whether it is trauma-informed, modeled on what we know about ACEs and based on the simple question, “What’s happened to that child;” and
(4) Recognizing that this is an issue for not only the schools, but the full community, neighbors, houses of worship and business as well.
“I want this moment to be heard as a call to action for schools and communities across the nation,” said James M. Hmurovich, President & CEO, Prevent Child Abuse America. “Let’s take advantage of this wonderful new resource, bring Paper Tigers to every community and support developing trauma-informed faculty, staff and police officers in every school district! For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact Prevent Child Abuse America or visit our website for additional resources related to Paper Tigers.”