Home > Newsletters > GrandAM December 2014 Newsletter

Mentoring to Reduce Toxic Stress

Imagine if scientists discovered a toxic substance that increased the risks of cancer, diabetes and heart, lung and liver disease for millions of people. Something that also increased one’s risks for smoking, drug abuse, suicide, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, domestic violence and depression — and simultaneously reduced the chances of succeeding in school, performing well on a job and maintaining stable relationships? It would be comparable to hazards like lead paint, tobacco smoke and mercury. We would do everything in our power to contain it and keep it far away from children. Right?

Well, there is such a thing, but it’s not a substance. It’s been called ‘toxic stress.’ For more than a decade, researchers have understood that frequent or continual stress on young children who lack adequate protection and support from adults, is strongly associated with increases in the risks of lifelong health and social problems, including all those listed above.

In the New York Times article Toxic Stress in Children, David Bornstein describes a challenge some of our students face: chronic stress. Due to continual anxiety or fear, levels of cortisol can be ramped up in the brain, profoundly affecting development. This tension-filled environment prepares children to struggle through a life of danger.

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn write in their piece entitled The Way to Beat Poverty, “in today’s world, the result is schoolchildren who are so alert to danger that they cannot concentrate. They are also so suspicious of others that they are prone to pre-emptive aggression.”

The good news? We can take proactive measures to mitigate toxic stress in children’s lives. One such step: mentoring.

Enjoying safe, nurturing fun with your mentee reduces their stress load. It allows children to form an emotional attachment to you, which is a critical component for growing up healthy. You can do even more. Help your mentee make friends with other children and supervise their interactions with peers during your weekly session. Role model and explicitly discuss problem solving, cooperation, and proper strategies to resolve disputes. This is mentoring.

Thanks for offering these kids what they clearly need: the safety and care of a responsible adult like you.

Download Newsletter