Covid-19: Anti-Fragile Kids

Life injures us.

None us escape life unscathed. Many clients of mine have had traumatic childhoods. Others have had non-traumatic childhoods (not dramatically traumatic at least). Some clients want me to rank how bad their childhood was compared to others. Some are angry at themselves for experiencing mental health problems because they seemingly had a good childhood.

It is always difficult to say how children will respond to difficulties. But it seems like common sense that a challenging childhood would lead to poorer mental health.

And right now is a challenging time, all over the world.

There have been a few articles in the media recently about current or future negative effect of the Coronavirus on children. Some experts have opined that this constant pressure that we are all under will warp our kid’s brains, leading to further mental health crises down the track.

Could it be true? Could the pandemic be damaging the mental health of the emerging generation?

A recent excellent study provides some clues to help answer this question. The study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, explored the links between childhood adversity and child and adolescent depression. The study reviewed 62 other studies, which included 44,000 subjects, a large number which indicates very powerful findings.

The researchers found that children exposed to early life stressful events are 2.5 times more likely(!) to subsequently experience Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) before adulthood.

Now what could be more stressful than a global pandemic? Does this mean that we will soon see more than double the number of kids seeing psychologists? Antidepressant scripts increasing by 250%? This will be a mental health disaster!

Not so fast.

In a secondary finding, the authors ranked specific stressors by how likely they would be linked to depression. The authors found that, in order, sexual abuse, physical abuse, death of a family member, domestic violence and emotional abuse were associated with a greater chance of childhood and adolescent MDD.

So, especially damaging to children are those stressors which cause them to lose trust in their care givers or other trusted people. Anything that denies kids a strong, stable home base. Episodes of violence and sexual predation at the hands of adults sear into the minds of young people often leading to the development of lifelong schemas.

In contrast, the researchers found no evidence of links between exposure to natural disasters, poverty and illness and injury and youth onset depression.

Again – Natural disasters, poverty and illness/injury = no confirmed link to child/adolescent depression.

Developing kids are antifragile. They benefit from a certain amount of life stress. They atrophy and weaken from the absence of stress. Parents (like me) often feel the urge to protect their kids from difficulties and harsh truths. We want them to have confidence building experiences at school and play, in fear that a negative event will ruin their future. The truth is that kids can handle more than we think.

So as long as long as this generation of children are given a strong, stable base, free of violence, sexualisation and abuse, I would guess they’ll be fine. Covid or not.

If you are worried your child’s mind getting messed up, don’t focus on the pandemic, which you can’t control. Rather, focus on establishing a healthy, happy home – something largely within your power.

Parent, working on your own mental equilibrium is the best way to provide that strong, stable base for your kids. If you are finding Covid-19 difficult, seek your own help.

The kids are alright.

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