Thanks to the M.R. and Evelyn Hudson Foundation of Southlake I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Bruce Perry, the Senior Fellow of the Child Trauma Academy of Houston, talk about the way to raise healthy children and consequently healthy brains.
200 years ago an extended family, made up of at least 4 adults were in attendance to raise a child – aunts, uncles, grandparents, and of course parents all shared the duties necessary to create a happy and healthy child. Today families have divided to form a compartmentalized society where children spend most of their time with other children, grandparents with grandparents, and teens with teens. “We have created an environment where kids are growing up wanting more shiny things to entertain them and yet are starving for the fundamental core human relational aspects of touch, smile, and a moment spent sitting with someone who cares in intimate conversation. In many cases elderly family members have been excluded from many child rearing roles,” said Perry. This, he continues, is biologically disrespectful, ultimately affecting our physical and mental health. We live in a child illiterate society where we have lost our efficient mechanisms for trans-generational passage of knowledge and good child rearing beliefs and practices.
Perry said “You can fight Mother Nature, but ultimately, you’re going to lose, because human beings are biologically designed to form and maintain relationships”. People thrive when they are with other people, and they fail when they are alone. He cited a Maori tribesman he spoke with in New Zealand last year who said that when a tribesman was sick and/or separated from the clan, the way to heal them is to bring them back in.
The percentage of high risk children is growing with each generation. Those who experience substance abuse, criminal behavior, and domestic violence will rise in the next 100 years from 10% to 25% of our children if changes are not made now. Yes – 1/4th of our children could be at risk in this negative trajectory unless we change course now. Children starved for attention and love from family are forced to look elsewhere for relationships and someone to listen such as the media, their peers, and anyone who reflects their values. This is how difficult children are created.
The biology of what is happening: the human brain is remarkably malleable, and based on its ability to modify itself through repetition and use, active brain neurons are constantly firing, connecting, and weaving themselves together billions of times every day creating new functional connections that are important to the way we see the world and behave in response. So neurons are really cool – repetition creates solid connections such as when a child learns to ride a bicycle after many attempts, the experience becomes hard wired in his brain, something he will not forget. So, the question is, do we want to create good repetitions or negative repetitions with our neurons?
So…what do we do? Let’s find the will to change, all of us at every level of society. Let’s change the trajectory of our fate by spending time with our darling children playing jigsaw puzzles, baking, creating fabulous model boats, painting a fence, washing your dog, reading a book, and yes…even looking at the stars lying in the grass. Find ways of sharing intimacy and history with our children….telling stories of our past, our families, and our heritage.
Bruce Perry & The Academy
Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. is the Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, a not-for-profit organization based in Houston that promotes innovations in service, research and education in child maltreatment and childhood trauma (www.ChildTrauma.org). Dr. Perry is the co-author of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love and Healing, a popular book based on his work with children, published by Basic Books. Over the last fifteen years, Dr. Perry has been an active teacher, clinician and researcher in children’s mental health and the neurosciences holding a variety of academic positions.
Dr. Perry was on the faculty of the Departments of Pharmacology and Psychiatry at the University Of Chicago School Of Medicine from 1988 to 1991. From 1992 to 2001, Dr. Perry served as the Trammell Research Professor of Child Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. During this time, Dr. Perry also was Chief of Psychiatry for Texas Children's Hospital and Vice-Chairman for Research within the Department of Psychiatry. From 2001 to 2003, Dr. Perry served as the Medical Director for Provincial Programs in Children's Mental Health for the Alberta Mental Health Board. He continues to serve as a Senior Consultant to the Ministry of Children’s Services in Alberta, Canada.
Dr. Perry has conducted both basic neuroscience and clinical research. His neuroscience research has examined the effects of prenatal drug exposure on brain development, the neurobiology of human neuropsychiatric disorders, the neurophysiology of traumatic life events and basic mechanisms related to the development of neurotransmitter receptors in the brain. His clinical research and practice has focused on high-risk children - examining long-term cognitive, behavioral, emotional, social, and physiological effects of neglect and trauma in children, adolescents and adults. This work has been instrumental in describing how childhood experiences, including neglect and traumatic stress, change the biology of the brain – and, thereby, the health of the child.
A focus of his clinical research over the last ten years has been focused on integrating concepts of developmental neuroscience and child development into clinical practices. This work has resulted in the development of innovative clinical practices and programs working with maltreated and traumatized children. The ChildTrauma Academy’s programs are in partnership with multiple sectors of the community and in context of public-private partnerships with the goal of promoting positive change within the primary institutions that work with high risk children such as child protective services, mental health, public education and juvenile justice.
His experience as a clinician and a researcher with traumatized children has led many community and governmental agencies to consult Dr. Perry following high-profile incidents involving traumatized children. These include the Branch Davidian siege, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine school shootings, the September 11th terrorist attacks and the Katrina and Rita hurricanes.
Dr. Perry is the author of over 300 journal articles, book chapters and scientific proceedings and is the recipient of numerous professional awards and honors, including the T. Berry Brazelton Infant Mental Health Advocacy Award, the Award for Leadership in Public Child Welfare and the Alberta Centennial Medal.
He has presented about child maltreatment, children's mental health, neurodevelopment and youth violence in a variety of venues including policy-making bodies such as the White House Summit on Violence, the California Assembly and U.S. House Committee on Education. Dr. Perry has been featured in a wide range of media including National Public Radio, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Nightline, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC and CBS News and the Oprah Winfrey Show. His work has been featured in documentaries produced by Dateline NBC, 20/20, the BBC, Nightline, CBC, PBS, as well as dozen international documentaries. Many print media have highlighted the clinical and research activities of Dr. Perry including a Pulitzer-prize winning series in the Chicago Tribune, US News and World Report, Time, Newsweek, Forbes ASAP, Washington Post, the New York Times and Rolling Stone.
Dr. Perry, a native of Bismarck, North Dakota, was an undergraduate at Stanford University and Amherst College. He attended medical and graduate school at Northwestern University, receiving both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees. Dr. Perry completed a residency in general psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine and a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at The University of Chicago.