What do children and superheroes have in common? Superheroes were once children who overcame adverse childhood experiences (ACE).
Have you ever considered how each superhero in comics or movies deals with unique personal adversity before realizing their potential for strength(s)? There is generally an adverse childhood experience (ACE) that impacts a future superhero where they are faced with a big life choice:
- Choose to overcome the obstacle and use it to stop generational cycles of adversity or
- Seek revenge and perpetuate the cycle of adversity
Let’s look at some popular superheroes, the individual adversity they faced, the choices they made, and positive outcomes they experienced
- Aquaman faced generational adversity before he was even born. Because of certain circumstances, his mother was separated from her community of support. This relational poverty was likely passed on to Aquaman biologically in utero and then continued to impact him once born. Following his birth, he was separated from his biological mother and raised by a single father for many years. This caused Aquaman to experience childhood trauma he may not have realized at the time yet impacted hm emotionally. When Aquaman was an adult, he reunited with his mother, but this didn’t immediately undo past hurts or other family challenges.
- Batman experienced trauma through the loss of his biological parents. He grew up mostly isolated from a community of nurturing and his grief continued to impact him throughout adulthood. He channeled his energy into justice and helping others in need.
- Black Widow did not have a stable childhood. She experienced childhood loss and disruptions to a stable, safe and loving family environment. As most children who experience adverse childhood experiences, Black Widow searched for understanding from her childhood. Early childhood experiences impact brain development and how children learn good from bad and what is safe regarding relationships. While a child should ideally be parented by the parent, some children must grow up faster than their physical minds or bodies have capacity for due to the family’s environment.
- Superman was adopted and raised in a home unfamiliar from everything he knew from his childhood. It was not easy to leave familiar sights, scents, sounds and people, but Superman had no choice but to leave his biological family and adapt to a new environment and culture. Instead of letting regret and disappointment consume him, Superman channeled his emotions and childhood losses to maximize his strengths to help others.
- Wonder Woman, also known as Diana, was raised by a single mother in a culture completely different from the one she was thrust into unexpectedly. Her childhood experiences did not prepare her for the challenging world of adulthood. Childhood is where the brain develops and builds the foundation for our adult understanding of relationships, value systems, and decision-making.
The common denominator of all these popular superheroes is that they faced adversity but found a way to use their inner strengths to be used for good.
Instead of letting their adversities defeat them or pull them into regret over their situations, beauty came out of what was intended for bad (Genesis 50:20).
What is an adverse childhood experience?
According to Dr. Bruce Perry, who coauthored, What Happened to You, with Oprah Winfrey, ACE was a study first conducted in 1998. There were 10 simple questions that asked about different childhood experiences. The higher the ACE score a person received, the higher the potential for an adult to have a higher risk of health problems or risks for suicide, mental health issues, substance abuse, etc.
What are some examples of ACE?
Children who face adverse childhood experiences may not realize they are, in fact, like superheroes simply for surviving certain life events. However, they may spend their adult lives affected by those experiences and not realize that is what is happening.
Here are three different examples of adverse childhood experiences that children may face:
Foster care and adoption
Children removed from their biological parents and placed in the child welfare system may not feel very much like a superhero, but it’s likely these brave children don’t even realize the strength it took to endure such major life changes to be detached from everything familiar and comfortable.
It can cause a lot of fear to lose the security of all one knows and the best goal for a child in this situation is to be one day rejoined with his/her biological families. When children are unable to be reunited with their biological parents, a more permanent solution may be sought through adoption. Even a steady family through adoption causes a child trauma, as knowing the child's birth family will not be reunited is the indication of true loss. This may be difficult for a child to process and great care must be taken to help the child realize he/she were not the cause.
Single parent families
Children raised by a single parent who may miss either that paternal or maternal aspect of their lives can feel the impact of ACE. There can be many reasons why a child is raised by one parent instead of two, but regardless of reason, trauma is generally associated with having a missing parent as part of a child’s family unit.
Children may have witnessed their single parent struggling financially or with the loss of relationship with the other parent. With the additional pressure falling to one parent, there may be a lot of stress in a single-parent household.
Family challenges and difficult life seasons
Children who may have both biological parents present but can feel the impacts from financial poverty, assimilation to a new culture due to a family relocation from another city, state or country, or other life stressors facing parents can also experience ACE. Parents dealing with heavy responsibilities or life challenges may not think children are aware of what may be happening, but children are intuitive and can generally feel when things aren’t right because they have a biological bond to parents.
Solutions to help understand and heal from ACE
The first step is acknowledging that adverse childhood experiences exist and impact a child’s growth, development and potential success later in adult life. Keeping communication open and clear with children, but at their appropriate level for stage of brain development, will help parents know how their child is feeling or possibly struggling.
Children may need help to find the right words to communicate how they feel, so seeking professional help/counseling is important so your child can process the emotions and adjust to seasons of change.
Parents can also educate themselves on the impacts of life events and family changes on children. What Happened to You? by Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. and Oprah Winfrey is a great book that helps explain why children may behave a certain way and how to understand the way the brain processes information.
Simply asking the question, “What happened to you?,” can lead to greater understanding of the causes of behaviors, issues at school or in the home, or ways a child may be unable to articulate challenges or what even caused them to begin with.
Dr. Perry also talks about the importance of community, or relational health. Having connectedness to family, a community of friends and support, and one’s birth culture can help counterbalance the impacts of adverse childhood experiences on a child later in life as an adult.
Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves
Children are superheroes for a variety of reasons but mainly because Jesus loved all children and instructs us to care for those who cannot care for themselves. We are to use our voices when others cannot find their voice or their voices are not heard because of their age or vulnerability.
Buckner ministries are child-centric and have evolved to realize families have a direct impact on the success of a child. If we don’t help mom and dad become strong and the best versions of themselves, how can they pour into their children and help them become successful? You can’t pour from an empty bucket, so therefore you will find a variety of programs and services available for children, single parents and families at Buckner.
We don’t want to just provide a solution to a problem. We want to prevent the problem from happening – all for the benefit of the child.