I heard an anti smoking commercial on teen smoking. It started out with a message to parents about something like 22% of teens smoke, what are you going to do about it. It ends up with a message to spend more time with your children. In between, they talk about teens that smoke being more likely to do poorly in school, drink alcohol, use drugs and a whole bunch of other bad stuff. I thought: this commercial is not trauma informed. As a systems thinking, I immediately went into my five whys. That’s what I do when I jump to a conclusion. Jumping to conclusions is not a good way to analyze stuff.
So, why is this commercial not trauma informed?
Well, the first answer I had was that smoking could be described, as Dr. Vincent Felitti stated when talking about negative behaviors that are adopted by kids with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s), an attempt at self healing. It is a symptom of ACE’s, and not a predictor of other behaviors also judged as negative.
Why is smoking a symptom of ACE’s? When looking at the data from the ACE Study, we find both correlation and causation with a majority of teens that smoke. The more ACEs, the greater is the likelihood they will smoke.
Why is there a greater likelihood that teens will smoke if they have higher ACEs? The answers are harder to come by the deeper you get into the 5 whys. At this point, my research tells me that Teens with high ACE’s have both a heightened fear response and greater anxiety. The act of smoking, together with the chemicals contained in a cigarette, are soothing and calming. This is why Dr. Felitti said that what we view as a negative behavior might well be someone’s attempt at self healing, or soothing and calming from a fear or anxiety response.
Why do I doubt that smoking causes other negative behaviors like poor school performance and alcohol consumption? Again, the questions get tougher as we progress, but I believe that all of the behaviors mentioned in the commercial are also self healing attempts. The behaviors mentioned, like smoking, influence the brain in a way that is soothing and calming to the teen. If they are all symptoms, then we need to look at symptoms as having a similar root cause—developmental trauma and anxiety resulting with development of the prefrontal cortex. The symptoms could actually be selected by teens from a range of behaviors that are available to them—behaviors that can be viewed as negative, neutral or positive.
Why can behaviors be viewed as negative, neutral or positive? Again, this is a tough question, and one I wrestled with for years. A neutral behavior is one like gambling. Unless gambling approaches addictive status, it doesn’t hurt anyone. It’s not like smoking. And in adults, drinking is viewed as neutral until it becomes addictive. And who doesn’t know about retail therapy, where you buy stuff because it makes you feel good. What about positive behaviors? I actually learned that this is a viable concept from Dr. Gabor Mate, author of an amazing book titled “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.” He pointed out that some people, like himself, could be driven by the approval of others into achievements in education and professions. As I thought about it, this can be viewed regularly when we look at the deconstruction in behaviors of teen performing stars after they become adults. Negative behaviors accumulate as the paparazzi and tabloids start taking aim and the praise stops.
Here is the final question I am going to ask, although I am sure there is more? Why isn’t this commercial trauma informed? As I stated, the commercial focuses on a negative behavior in a silo. It states that smoking is a predictor that the teen will enter other siloes. And then it jumps to a conclusion that does not take into account the developmental trauma roots for the behavior. If, as the ACE study reports, there is both causation and correlation between trauma children are exposed to and negative behaviors, that fact is ignored. It is particularly ignored in the advice given to parents.
Here is the conclusion I come up with. The 10 questions examined in the ACE Study are all based on behaviors that can be categorized as predominately perpetrated by parents. The advice that’s given is to spend more time with your children. Doesn’t that advice give the parent more time to perpetrate trauma. When we have a parent who is causing the damage to our kids, do we really want to be giving them advice about spending MORE time with their kids? If letting kids have matches leads to setting fires, do we tell parents to let their kids have more matches?
OK. We have come to a point where I believe I am justified in a hypothesis that states: the anti smoking commercial is not trauma informed, and the advice given to parents to spend more time with their children can actually cause more damage than we actually know about. Why? The damage is caused when we are not properly informed about trauma.
Of course that leads to another question I have posed before. What advice can we actually give that might help? I have answered that in my Restoration to Health Strategy. We need to heal the parent generation so they can parent the next generation well. A child raised by healthy parents generally exhibits few negative behaviors.
Thanks for following along. I am concerned that we place too much emphasis on the identification of developmental trauma as a cause of negative behaviors and not on what can be done for healing the trauma.
Violence during the civil war in Guatemala from 1960 to 1996 resulted in the development of significant mental health problems and conditions for the county's people, according to a new multi-institution study from researchers under the Guatemala-Penn Partnership . People who experienced or witnessed violence were four times more likely to suffer from alcohol-related disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during the civil war, researchers from the University of San Carlos in Guatemala, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, and Brown University report this week in the American Journal of Public Health. The mental health consequences resulting from violent events decreased in the postwar period, suggesting a nation in recovery. The study was co-led by Victor D. Puac-Polanco, MD, MSCE, of the Epidemiology Department at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, formerly of Penn's MSCE program in the department of Epidemiology, and senior author Charles C. Branas, PhD, of the department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The researchers' findings occur amidst reports that 40 percent of Guatemalans continue to have no mental health services.
It started as a technically illegal exercise in improving how people experience the streets of Raleigh, North Carolina. Just some simple signs, lashed to light poles, at a few of the city’s key intersections, letting residents and visitors know what attractions and amenities could be found within walking distance and how many minutes it would take to reach them on foot. “Guerrilla wayfinding” is what people called it.
The signs, the brainchild of then-graduate student Matt Tomasulo, were meant to help people think differently about distances in the city, and to encourage them to get out of their cars and explore the place under their own power.
When it debuted in 2012, the project drew international notice and received lots of favorable press coverage, including here on CityLab. It also got the attention of Raleigh’s city government, which eventually took the signs down for violating local ordinances. But the city’s planning director was a fan of the concept behind Tomasulo’s action, and soon they reached a compromise. The signs went back up, with the blessing of the city, as a pilot education project.
Thirty-seven percent of white Americans believe that the police treat black people less fairly; 70 percent of black Americans feel the same way. Similar chasms exist when it comes to perceived discrimination in stores, the courts, and schools, which means that much of the nation's dialogue about racial inequality is defined by the clashing of intractable subjectivities.
Data alone can’t solve deep-seated social ills or mediate heated arguments, but it does have a habit of pulling conversations away from foggy abstraction and ad hominem accusations. That’s why studies showing that employers prefer to hire candidates with caucasian-sounding names over those with black-sounding ones and that the racial composition of juries affects trial outcomes are so powerful. And it’s why “Still Not Allowed on the Bus,” a working paper published late last year by two researchers based in Australia, is a meaningful contribution to a body of evidence indicating that racial discrimination is real, concrete, and pervasive.
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