The term ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) is generally thought of to only include the most significant of negative experiences, such as physical or sexual abuse. These experiences, however, can be and are much more widespread than others tend to think. These experiences can be something as commonplace as a loss of a family member or a child whose parents have divorced. These can also be as extreme as exposure to abuse, significant neglect, or even mental illness. These all can have significant impacts on children that may not always be easy to see or notice.
It is estimated that nearly two thirds of adults have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience. This is especially concerning when considering that the effects tend to rise significantly depending on the number of ACEs experienced. Those who have experienced more, such as those who were abused, or neglected, or have divorced parents, tend to show increasing levels of unstable relationships, poor employment history, financial trouble, or even a significantly shorter lifespan. These can even be hereditary in cases such as generational racism or abject poverty. It is important for those of us who have children or work with them to be aware of what experiences these children may be exposed to and how they may impact them going forward. If we can notice these as they are happening, then we may be able to prevent a significant amount of negative impact throughout the course of the rest of their lives.
Most of these experiences that have significant negative impacts have early warning signs that are relatively easy to notice. These include, but are not limited to consistent drug use, smoking or drinking at an early age, early engagement in sexual activity, or suicide attempts. These are signs that are common, and if we can see that these behaviors are not necessarily “bad”, but may rather be an indicator that our children are suffering, we may be able to address and reduce these symptoms faster and in a healthier manner. If we can be aware of our children’s behaviors, and understand what is happening behind the behavior, we can effectively create a healthier generation of children and future adults.