Parenting’s troubled history: Why changing family patterns is our most important work

apunish2As we learned from the CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACE Study, negative childhood experiences are often kept secret, downplayed, or repressed because of our powerful desire to put such things behind us. Unfortunately, our minds and our brains don’t work that way. Patterns can play out automatically, no matter how hard we try to be original and create our own realities.

Just as it is important to know family medical history (e.g., diabetes or tuberculosis) it is equally important to know about our social inheritance.

What is your ancestry? What destructive patterns did your parents and grandparents overcome? Think back to your childhood, to how you were disciplined. What were the consequences in the short term? In the long term?

There is a chilling quote from Time magazine essayist Lance Morrow, from his ACES-informed book, Heart: “Generations are boxes within boxes; inside my mother’s violence you find another box, which contains my grandfather’s violence, and inside that box (I suspect but do not know) you would find another box with some such black secret energy—stories within stories, receding in time.”

Punishment and Fear-Based Leadership

Authoritarian or autocratic leadership, the very strict style predominant in early 20th century European countries, was also the predominant style in the U.S. before the 1960s. Many families and subcultures in America still abide by this style. The primary goal of authoritarian parents is obedience; their tools are blame, shame, guilt, threats, force, and abuse. Their goal is to control, and their greatest tool is punishment.

Punishment appears to be an easy fix in the short run, but it can actually cause bigger problems in the long run—instilling fear, distrust, and resulting in a damaged relationship. Youngsters learn that it is okay to bully to get their way. Furthermore, punishment causes great confusion: “How can the most important people in my life, who should be loving and protecting me, be attacking me?”

Research shows that punishment increases aggressiveness and behavior problems, and lowers IQ and academic performance. Punishment provokes anger and the desire for revenge. When backed into a corner, humans may revert to their basest instincts.

The American Psychological Association states that “corporal punishment is violent and unnecessary, may lower self-esteem, and is liable to instill hostility and rage without reducing the undesired behavior.” The APA adds, “corporal punishment is likely to train children to use physical violence.”

Yet, many parents still rely on punishment, holding beliefs such as,

  • “My parents used it and I turned out okay”
  • “My parents never punished me, and I didn’t turn out okay”
  • “You have to beat your own kid or the world/the police/others will beat him/her.”

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What does trauma-informed mean to foster youth?

Alisa 2015 Headshot

Alisa Santucci

By Alisa Santucci

For three decades, I have listened in awe to the brave voices of children, youth and families who have shared, in anguish, their past experiences — experiences that anyone would objectively call “adverse” and ones that can have lasting effects on health and well-being.

The seminal CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study opened my eyes to how pervasive their stories were and how these findings might influence the development of effective interventions and treatment, especially for system-involved young people.

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Too young to say ‘I do’

Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at Last in New Jersey. Photo: Unchained at Last

Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at Last

by Christie Renick,

This summer, Virginia lawmakers passed a law preventing anyone under the age of 16 from marrying in the state.

Some would call this progress, but advocates fighting to end child marriage in the United States see it as a sobering reminder that adults can legally marry children in all 50 states.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), child marriage is “perhaps the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls,” and “marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of human rights.”

Fraidy Reiss is the founder of Unchained at Last, a nonprofit that helps women and girls leave or avoid forced marriages, and advocates to end the practice of child marriage. She lived in an arranged marriage for more than a decade.

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Violence is just one part of childhood trauma. So why are we focusing so much on childhood violence?


Whac-A-Mole players (photo by Laura)

Many people and organizations focus on preventing violence with the belief that if our society can stop violence against children, then most childhood trauma will be eradicated.

However, research that has emerged over the last 20 years clearly shows that focusing primarily on violence prevention – physical and sexual abuse, in particular – doesn’t eliminate the trauma that children experience, and won’t even prevent further violence.

“Although violence can beget violence, it’s hardly the only cause of violence,” says Dr. Vincent Felitti, co-principal investigator of the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study), groundbreaking epidemiological research that showed a direct link between 10 types of childhood trauma and the adult onset of chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence, among many other consequences.

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Oregon psychiatrist testifies before Senate Finance Committee on the impact of childhood adversity and toxic stress on adult health


Appearing before the powerful Senate Finance Committee  in Washington, DC, recently, Dr. Maggie Bennington-Davis, psychiatrist and chief medical officer of Health Share Oregon, devoted a significant portion of her testimony to  the role of adversity and toxic stress during childhood on adult health, both physical and emotional. She explained how Health Share Oregon—that state’s largest Medicaid coordinated care organization—examined the people with the costliest health bills and found them to have experienced high levels of childhood adversity. She told the senators that the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study), first published in 1998 by Drs. Vincent Felliti and Robert Anda, found exactly this correlation.

At the April 28 hearing titled “Mental Health in America: Where are we now?,”* Bennington-Davis addressed the need to look to people’s experiences in childhoods to improve health, knowing that mental illness and substance use disorders, along with other

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When teen dating violence goes online


By Jennifer White, Senior Attorney for Legal Programs, Futures Without Violence

This year, a film named Audrie and Daisy was part of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the Sundance Film Festival and will be available on Netflix later this year. The film tells the stories of two high school girls in different parts of the country whose kinship is the result of a common tragedy: both girls were sexually assaulted by boys they thought were friends.

Both girls were tortured by their communities and schools, particularly over social media. Both girls tried to take their own lives. The film highlights our failures as a nation to protect our young people, it illustrates a fundamental misapprehension about gender-based violence, it demonstrates our inclination to blame victims rather than believe them, and it vividly depicts the power and pervasiveness of social media as a weapon.

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Cherokee Point Elementary School youth leaders learn about Child Abuse Prevention month


Jennifer Hossler and the youth leaders of Cherokee Point Elementary School in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego, CA.


Some days at work are better than others. A recent visit to Cherokee Point Elementary School in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego, CA, was one of the best days I’ve had in awhile!  I had the chance to speak to a small group of youth leaders from the third, fourth and fifth grades. As a representative of the Chadwick Center for Children & Families, I came to talk with them about Child Abuse Prevention (CAP) month, which is coming up in April.  We are collaborating with Cherokee Point in an effort to bring awareness to the community about CAP month, resilience, and protective factors.

Admittedly, I was nervous!  Talking to kids about child abuse is hard, and to be honest, can be a little

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