“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
An interesting article was posted in the New York Times in January with the simple idea that we could end poverty with a hug, or lots of hugs, rather. In the article, Nicholas D. Kristof examined the impact of “toxic stress” in early life, and even before.
Where does toxic stress come from? Kristof explains it as something that can “arise from parental abuse of alcohol or drugs. It could occur in a home where children are threatened and beaten. It might derive from chronic neglect — a child cries without being cuddled […] the stress emerges when a child senses persistent threats but no protector.”
This toxic stress has an immediate and lasting impact on young children, perhaps even before leaving the womb. Cortisol, a stress hormone, can change children’s metabolism or even decrease brain function, and children facing toxic stress are more likely to have trouble with academics, be quick to anger, and tangle with the law. Stress in early childhood development can cause lasting symptoms as adults, too, with higher rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other physical problems.
Kristof suggests addressing poverty with this information by using it to break the cycle. He says, “Poverty is difficult to overcome partly because of self-destructive behaviors. Children from poor homes often shine, but others may skip school, abuse narcotics, break the law, and have trouble settling down in a marriage and a job. Then their children may replicate this pattern.”
It is our job to set up programs to raise awareness and help young children. Many times no one steps in until the child starts school, but as Kristof points out, this is already too late:
“At age 6, studies have found, these children are only one-third as likely to have behavioral or intellectual problems as others who weren’t enrolled. At age 15, the children are less than half as likely to have been arrested.”
By simply teaching parents to pay attention to children and act as protectors, maybe we can help break the cycle of poverty.
What do you think? Read the article and share your thoughts below.