Sesame Street Tackles Adverse Childhood Experiences

A special initiative from Sesame Street, called Sesame Street in Communities, has created videos, worksheets, and educational tools to help children deal with trauma.

A study that began in 1995, the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, established that trauma experience, particularly repeated or multiple sources of trauma, can have long-term health impacts on one’s physical and mental health, and even contribute to shortened life expectancy. Addressing the impacts of trauma early, building resilience, and changing the context to remove children and families from traumatic environments, can really make a big difference in making sure people who have experienced traumatic events can bounce back and live the healthiest lives they can.

I can’t remember when I first heard about the ACEs study, I may have been in high school or college, but it immediately made so much sense to me. I have family members who grew up with a lot of trauma, and it gave so much context to the ways they had learned to cope with the effects of those traumatic events. Now that I work with (mostly adult) survivors of domestic violence, I have an even deeper appreciation for the ACEs research and how research on ACEs can get translated into resources for people who have experienced a lot of trauma.

Whether you work with people who children who have experienced trauma or not, I think the whole resource from Sesame Street in Communities is worth looking at because it does a really good job at explaining how trauma works and really easy, tangible coping mechanisms adults can do with children who have experienced trauma. Often children and adults have experienced trauma together, and the adults may need some coaching themselves on how to best help their kids.

This video in particular, meant for adults, is a good, short and impactful demonstration of how children of different ages may react to traumatic events different, and ends with a positive example of how adults can step in to help children.

Sesame Street in Communities included this information along with the video:

As you watch this video of two children’s different responses, consider these questions: What do you notice that is the same in the children’s responses to the traumatic experience? What is different? How does the grandfather make a difference in the end?

The symptoms of having experienced trauma can be different at every age and for every individual child. Every child’s response is unique. Some children “bounce back” after adversity; others show intense distress. Responses can go beyond immediate reactions to traumatic events and damage the child’s brain and nervous system, as well as overall physical health, creating long-term social, emotional, and physical problems. Trauma affects the whole body and the entire emotional world of the person experiencing it.

It can be very difficult to identify trauma in young children, so it’s important to watch for behavioral changes.

I haven’t looked at the site on a mobile device yet, but it is something I’m really interested in from an academic perspective, but also I think it will be really helpful for families and caregivers who have children who have experienced trauma and will definitely be referring people to this website.

Good Ratings ≠ Good Debate

“Looking back, it’s bananas that anyone included the Tobacco Institute in public health debates.”

While I stand firmly in the camp of gun control, I understand (some) of the reasons why others may want to own guns. However, it is bananas that when gun control debates are presented on television, they’re presented generally between victims of gun violence or advocates against gun violence and a lobbying group for guns. This skewed presentation of opinion influences the way people perceive the debate on gun control. How many times have you faced someone on the opposite side of an issue and felt like there was no possible middle ground?

Americans, including gun owners, have different opinions from the NRA! In fact, the majority of Americans are in favor of common sense gun control measures.

Screen Shot 2018-03-24 at 10.51.26 AM
60% of people polled said they supported more strict laws about firearm sales in October 2017 (From Gallup)

Much like public opinion on abortion, public opinion on gun control is more nuanced than than it is presented in the news. And it’s changed through time!

Going back to the comparison of the tobacco lobby and public health debates on smoking, public opinion and knowledge about the harms caused by smoking changed as people’s awareness changed. I think it is helpful to think about the (former) power of the tobacco lobby when thinking about the current power of the gun lobby because these things do change in time, but there are some key cultural and demographic differences. From a Harvard Political Review article:

In contrast to tobacco—which was used across all of America by all Americans—only a certain subset of Americans owns guns and cares about gun rights. The majority of gun owners fall within specific demographic categories. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center Study white Americans are much more likely to own a gun than Americans of other races… Overall, 61 percent of all gun owners are white men, who comprise just 32 percent of the general population. Gun rights advocates tend to be conservative and vote Republican… Guns don’t cut across socioeconomic, gender, and racial boundaries like tobacco did before 1964; rather, they exist within demographic boundaries.

Unlike tobacco, where the relationship between use and harm was unknown, there are readily available studies linking guns to homicides and violence. Studies have proven a nearly linear relationship between the level of gun ownership and a number of gun deaths…

There is an abundance of material to shock gun owners in the same way that smokers were jolted, revealing the damage that guns can cause… Between 1966 to 2012, nearly a third of the worlds’ mass shootings occurred in the United States, a country with just 5 percent of the world’s population…  gun-owners cannot be shocked like smokers were. The equivalent of the Surgeon General’s report—the mass shootings and research—have only caused gun owners to dig in their heels further.

The interpretation of the second amendment that is currently championed by the NRA and many people who are against gun control reform is also relatively new. Legal interpretations of the Second Amendment have changed, and the culture of gun ownership has as well. The Harvard Political Review article also explains [Emphasis mine]:

Prior to the late twentieth century, the Second Amendment was never interpreted as conferring an individual right to bear arms, but rather the right to keep a well-regulated militia. From 1888 to 1959 not a single law articlewas passed advocating such a right. However, in the 1970s, libertarian scholars, often funded by the NRA, began a revisionist history on the Second Amendment, publishing troves of articles arguing that it conferred an individual right to bear arms. Public opinion followed. According to a Gallup Poll, by 2008, 73 percent of Americans believed that the Second Amendment “’guaranteed the rights of Americans to own guns’ outside a militia.” That same year, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court agreed.

The power of the NRA to spend money on political campaigns and advertising also cannot be ignored. Their power to use the media and control how politicians feel obligated to vote is influenced by their spending, and in turn, their priorities are reflected in the way laws are created (or not created), even though their opinions do not match those of the general public. 

Since the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, special interests like the NRA have been able to flood our elections with money. It’s given them outsized influence and taken the voice away from the American people, who overwhelmingly support commonsense gun safety measures, such as comprehensive background checks or blocking terrorists from buying guns.

The NRA’s political spending has tripled since the Citizens United decision in 2010. In 2014 alone, the NRA spent nearly $30 million to influence elections.

Worse, Citizens United has allowed a handful of billionaires to funnel millions of dollars to groups like the NRA for them to spend in elections. For example, the Koch brothers’ network has given the NRA more than $10 million since 2010.

When lobbies like the NRA have that much power, what is the point of allowing them to debate on national television? Their priorities are connected to their financial interests, not the interests of real citizens.

If we want to experience real debates between people on opposite sides of issues, particularly when they are public health issues, we should stop inviting lobbies to the table and just speak to the people.