Exposure to racism and violence hampers children’s learning, behaviour, and health

Racism and violence (called “toxic stress”) takes a heavy toll on children’s learning, behaviour, and health.

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Racism and violence (called “toxic stress”) takes a heavy toll on children’s learning, behaviour, and health.

Between terrorist attacks and police brutality and petty celebrities trying to bring each other down, there is no escaping the fact that we live in a terrifying world at an equally terrifying time.

Because of this, it becomes increasingly difficult for parents to shield their children from such terrible news.

In fact American Academy of Paediatric has issued recommendations that children six below be spared from being exposed to violence on television and video games.

Now the organization has a more ambitious campaign to protect children from such themes, a campaign which involves education, advocacy, and changes in clinical practice to address the larger issues of violence and intolerance.

The science behind the initiative is also a cause for concern.

According to Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, exposure to racism and violence (called “toxic stress”) takes a heavy toll on children’s learning, behaviour, and health.

Children don’t have to be the direct victim of toxic stress to feel its effects. Watching about it on TV and other channels may leave them feeling unsafe and anxious.

Toxic stress also affects children’s brain development, the cardiovascular system, the immune system, metabolic regulation and mental health. “We’re jeopardising children’s lifelong health,” Dr. Shonkoff.

The organization’s campaign “may include coaching paediatricians to determine whether their patients have been exposed to violence or danger,” said a STAT News report. “Or helping doctors understand how they might intervene to protect a child.

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“The group also wants to help paediatricians understand the experiences of children who are growing up in very different circumstances than their own. (Only about 4 percent of doctors are African-American.)”

Brought on by the overwhelming news reports of violence in the past weeks, the initiative was rolled out only recently.

“Seeing this unfold and recognising how all of these episodes impact children, we can’t just say something like ‘How terrible this is,’ and we can’t be defeatist and say ‘Well, I’m not sure what we can do,’” said Dr. Bernard Dreyer, president of the paediatrician’ organisation. “It doesn’t matter if we will succeed or not. We still have to act.”

Dr. Joseph Wright, however, says that paediatricians will need help overcoming their own discomfort in talking about race before they can step in as advocates.

“Wright said he can vividly remember every detail of the first time he was called a racist slur,” said the STAT report. “The sense of betrayal and confusion from an event like that—which virtually every black child experiences at some point—can cause trauma.”

Paediatricians should be educated to able to help a child overcome such traumatic moments.

“Education, clinical practice, advocacy: We have roles in all of those areas,” said Dr. Dreyer. “We have yet to start the conversation but we will … Soon.”