What about boys? Advocates discuss ACE effects and buffers

On May 16, observed as World Day of the Boy Child, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago’s Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh organized a virtual event with other Caribbean child advocates to discuss the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on boys and men, a problem found in many cultures around the world.

The recording of “ACEs and the Boy Child” is now available for public viewing at no cost. Here are some highlights:

  • Our culture has made monumental strides with girls and ACEs awareness, through the feminism movement, but we must be sure not to leave boys behind!
  • Our culture focuses a lot on adults’ mental health needs and less so on children’s mental well-being. Neglecting mental health in boys, however, comes out later as violence when those boys have grown into men.

Related: ACEs too high with Jane Stevens

  • When a child is exposed to chronic toxic stress, the amydala (the fear center of the brain) becomes overactive and the prefrontal cortex (the executive functioning region of the brain) remains under-developed, resulting in a child who has trouble focusing and learning, may be hyperactive, have oppositional issues, etc.
  • ACEs are listed as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; emotional or physical neglect; mental illness in a parent; an incarcerated parent; domestic violence among the parents; a parent involved in substance abuse; and divorce in the family. Other possible stress events that researchers are considering for the ACE list include poverty, physical punishment such as spanking, child labor, generational trauma, and environmental issues. The original ACE study (1998) and many follow-up studies show a very strong correlation between number of ACEs with serious physical and mental health conditions in adulthood, as well as behavioral issues in the child while in school and the propensity for the physically abused child to become a violent adult.
  • ACEs aren’t about merely pointing out that certain childhood stresses have toxic effects on lifelong physical and mental health, but about identifying the reason for needed positive change in our children’s lives.

Related: For better or worse, parenting changes your child’s DNA

  • Healing from toxic stress is not related as much to what a child has been exposed to, but that he has the support he needs to process what he has been exposed to. Our main focus as parents and professionals must be on finding spaces and people where boys feel safe and emotionally supported to work through their questions and make sense of their experiences.
  • Masculinity is defined differently in different regions of the world, and that definition may or may not contribute to ACEs. Shame-based masculinity messages, as well as silent trauma accrued through punishments a child receives, affect the quality of nurturing that boys offer their own children when they become fathers.
  • The big takeaway for raising boys is to make sure our sons have a positive male role model in their lives; if not the father, a grandfather or neighbor or teacher/coach. It’s important that this role model embodies positive male character traits, especially humility.

Related: Nurturing doesn’t spoil kids

  • It’s also important to guide our sons to value people in working-class occupations, not celebrities or pro-athletes, because most men in our culture (and probably our families) are in working-class jobs.
  • Mothers are equally important in boy development. Our sons need to feel welcomed and loved by their mothers. It’s important to guide them with the assurance that they can talk to their mothers about any problems they encounter.
  • We must take care in disciplining our children, both boys and girls.