Growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, J.D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy, experienced multiple “adverse childhood experiences”, or ACEs.
These are the behaviours – including yelling at, teasing and bullying of a child, and arguing openly and violently between parents – that hard-wire children to protect themselves. The inflicted trauma often carries into adulthood, leaving children with an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and inability to form secure relationships.
As Victoria addresses the challenges of expunging domestic violence, it’s important to know what can best help to change environments so destructive to children’s physical, mental and emotional development.
J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy. Credit:Washington Post
Vance concludes that government programs alone can’t effect all the changes needed, because the sources of domestic violence are often mired within generations of damaged, socially estranged people. He suggests that those in poorer, less educated communities, in which ACEs are statistically more common, need to find ways to improve their family’s circumstances and to look for more sources of help.
Are their children raised to feel wanted, confident and empowered, or afraid and helpless? Are teenagers taught to exercise self-control and to talk out their issues rather than fight through them or run away from them? Are there people within the community prepared to step up as mentors to their children and help them to succeed? Those close at hand can often offer strong assistance.
Vance notes that church communities, with their emphases on the importance of love and building a peaceful, respectful family life in which each member has their own value and purpose, can also be gateways to a better life. Every member can offer support to those in need.
At every point of struggle in his life, Vance credits the influence of family, mentors and lifelong friends for his eventual healthy, emotionally and financially stable happy life.
Glenn Close in the movie Hillbilly Elegy.
Prince Philip, too, we’ve been reminded, endured the ACEs of exile and the separation of his parents as a child. Cast adrift, extended family members and mentors ensured that he had the stability, education and opportunities he needed for a full life.
He, of course, had the benefit of those around him being wealthy and privileged. He once modestly said that he had no idea of the ways in which his own mentoring program, The Duke of Edinburgh Award, affected so many young lives for the better. But we can be fairly sure, I think, that his own experience was one of the springboards for founding it.
“It takes a village to raise a child” is still true. We are all responsible for stepping up with practical help when the need arises in our own neighbourhoods: from getting to know new residents and assisting exhausted carers with an offer of help to encouraging necessary facilities for the young and disadvantaged to be built in our “back yards”.
St Teresa of Avila put it best: “Christ has no body on earth but yours.”
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