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Home Family Parenting Advice Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) — Good Parenting

Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) — Good Parenting


Dear Dr. Debbie,

My friend and I often share and compare with each other some of the drama and absenteeism of our respective mothers. We are committed to doing better by our children and, with support from great husbands and good mom friends, are feeling pretty good about how we are doing with our little ones.

We try really hard not to repeat the negative parenting we received, and understand that unfortunately many parents, like our mothers, just repeat the harsh and or neglectful treatment they once received from their own parents.

While not perfect, I thought all was well until my friend recently told me there’s research connecting stressful childhood experiences with certain illnesses even into adulthood.
I know I can’t change the past, but should I be worried about my health?

Trying to Look Forward, Not Backward



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Don’t miss last week’s column Summer Math — Good Parenting



The study to which she is referring is known as A.C.E.s which stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences and is ongoing by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Researchers have found a strong connection to childhood abuse and or other family dysfunction with several of the leading health risks for adults.

The original study was conducted in California in 1995-1997. Kaiser-Permanente, a health maintenance organization, mailed a questionnaire to about 13,500 of its members who had been in for a standardized medical evaluation. Surveys were returned by 9,508 (70.5%) of them. The CDC is continuing to investigate this link with over 17,500 individuals. The adverse childhood experiences asked about were: “psychological, physical, or sexual abuse; violence against mother; or living with household members who were substance abusers, mentally ill or suicidal, or ever imprisoned.”

Scores based on the presence of these adverse childhood experiences (the ACE’s) were compared with whether the subjects were considered at risk for the leading causes of death in adult life. The questionnaire included specific health conditions – heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, sexually transmitted diseases, skeletal fractures, and liver disease – as well as behaviors known to put health at risk. Health risk behaviors included were: abuse of alcohol, drug abuse, depression, attempted suicide, cigarette smoking, risky sexual behavior; sedentary lifestyle and severe obesity.

While more than half the respondents claimed at least one ACE, there was a significant increase in diseases and risky health behaviors for those who had experienced greater childhood exposure to stress and trauma.

One concerning aspect of this research is that it seems that risky behavior alone doesn’t explain the poor health of adults who have had adverse childhood experiences – many of whom do NOT engage in risky behaviors. Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician, explains the ACE outcomes as a maladaptive development of the immune system, the hormonal system, and brain development itself through overdoses of stress hormones. This is known as Toxic Stress.

The very important message of the ACE research is that what we do going forward, parenting the next generation, must take a preventative approach by providing stable, nurturing, emotionally healthy environments for all children.

As you say, you can’t change your past. However, it’s always a good choice to stay active, avoid the abuse of drugs and alcohol, and keep company with people who make you feel good about yourself. Especially surround yourself with people and other resources to help you be the best parent possible.

Dr. Debbie

Dr. Debbie Wood is offering a series of parenting seminars, July 11, 17,18, and 19, 6:30-8:30 pm at Chesapeake Children’s Museum in Annapolis. Register at www.theccm.org or call 410-990-1993.

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.

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