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How Children Succeed

Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

By Paul Tough
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  • Contains 9 key ideas
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How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

These blinks explore the reasons why some people struggle in school and later on in life, and why others thrive and prosper. Using scientific studies and data from real schools, the blinks dive into the hidden factors that affect the success of children.

Key idea 1 of 9

Traumatic childhood experiences have a lasting negative impact.

Thinking back on your childhood, could you say it was a happy one? Are there any traumatic experiences that stick out in your memory? While every good parent strives to create a safe and happy environment for their children that’s as free from worries as possible, children are nevertheless sometimes confronted with traumatic events, such as the death of a parent or familial separation.

One way to measure the quality of one’s childhood is to use the “Adverse Childhood Experience” (ACE) questionnaire, which measures how many traumatic events someone has experienced during their childhood. These traumatic experiences include things like direct abuse, such as physical or sexual abuse and emotional neglect, as well as other kinds of household dysfunction, such as a separated family, mental illness or addiction.

High ACE scores, which indicate traumatic childhoods, correlate with behavioral problems later on. For example, students with high ACE scores find it more difficult to concentrate in class and also suffer from an inability move past disappointments. They are also more likely to engage in bullying.

High ACE scores can also contribute to juvenile delinquency. A study of detainees at a juvenile detention center found that 84 percent of detainees had undergone at least two serious childhood traumas and that the majority had experienced at least six.

Alas, the effects of childhood trauma do not end after adolescence: high ACE scores correlate to both mental and physical health problems in adulthood. For example, those who scored high on the ACE are more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking and drug abuse in adulthood.

Even if someone does not engage in these risky behaviors, high ACE scores themselves imply a significantly increased likelihood of suffering from ischemic heart disease and various other chronic disorders.

These physical and mental health problems in adulthood show us that childhood trauma can have long-lasting and far-reaching consequences for those children affected.

Traumatic childhood experiences cause both behavioral and health problems that persist even in adulthood.

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