Effects of Stress and Trauma
More often than not people use books, songs, and movies as a great way to escape the cares, worries, and concerns of reality temporarily. Many of us have a good grasp at what types of media we can add to our day to ward off negative stress and emotions. This is because we have a great understanding of our own thoughts, feelings and our own personal history.
When stress and severe and/or chronic trauma are tossed into one’s life, it brings up a multitude of issues including how a piece of media will affect a person. I [Darren] have become somewhat aware of this phenomenon the longer that I am on the adoption/foster care journey.
My Media Experience
As a university student in the 1990s, I was introduced to the TV series called, The X-files by a group of friends. In the show two specialized FBI agents investigate paranormal or supernatural occurrences happening throughout the United States. More often than not this included alien activity but the show also did visit human phenomenon that frequently put other people in mortal danger. This show was great at causing you to keep guessing and get your adrenaline pumping. The cliff hangers and suspense were part of the appeal for me to continue watching every week.
Fast forward to the present with me as a foster father and an adoptive father of four. I have since witnessed a lot of real horrors that can occur in the human world. I have discovered these scary events through learning past history of children or from having to help a child overcome their trauma-caused behaviors. A side-effect of getting in the trenches and helping people that are suffering from trauma is getting a bit shell-shocked yourself – secondary PTSD is real.
While looking through Netflix for a movie to watch with my older children, I came across X-files. Knowing that my son would relish the thrills I decided to introduce them to the show. They LOVED it but I found myself begging them to turn the show off after binging three episodes. I just couldn’t hack the adrenaline rush the show was causing inside me. What was once thrilling now made me anxious and I know it is due to the traumas that I have experienced while caring for children – I’m not complaining, looking for pity, or upset – I’m just stating reality.
Is Media Harming Your Child?
If a TV show can effect me because of SECONDARY PTSD, then how much more is certain media affecting my children who incidentally are less equipped to cope with these issues. This is part of the reason why Transfiguring Adoption reviews various media through our book and movie lists. We want you not only to be able to begin a conversation with your child but know if a piece of media has the potential to trigger your child’s trauma.
Ten Questions for Discovering Media Triggers
- Are children, adults, or animals being abused? Domestic violence? How graphic/real is it?
- Are drugs or alcohol being consumed? How graphic/real is it?
Naturally, children from traumatic backgrounds may have experience these abuses in their birth home. Obviously, placing media that reminds them of past trauma is not going to be healthy.
- Sexual content? Nudity? Sexual violence? Consent? No consent?
Just as point number two, this area could directly remind children of the trauma found in their birth home.
- Is a character being rejected by adults or peers?
Foster/adoptive children seem to have this innate fear of being different and most seem to feel like an outsider due to their situation or past. This thinking along with the fact that some kiddos may have actually been rejected by their birth family.
- Will the media cause your child to have an adrenaline rush?
An adrenaline rush and other chemicals are present during many situations like a birthday party, Christmas, an amusement park ride. It is also present when we are being physically or sexually abused or in other dangers. Thus, a spike in adrenaline can trigger one’s body and mind to think about past trauma even though you might be experiencing something positive. This is why many foster kiddos will sabotage a holiday or a birthday.
- Are children/animals being neglected? How graphic/real is it?
These might even be a small part or a snippet of a storyline in a movie or book. However, for a child who spent years being neglected, just a few seconds of seeing a dog not fed or severely ignored is a enough to awaken emotional stress inside of them.
- Does a person/animal die? A parent? How graphic/real is it?
- Is there an action being performed in the media that your child negatively associates with their past?
Naturally, all of these questions require you to know your child and this question especially insists you know him/her.
- Are foster/adoptive parents portrayed in a bad light or unfit to care properly for a child?
Many times media portrays foster/adoptive parents as the villains or knuckleheads for comic relief. Children from traumatic backgrounds have more than likely been forced to be the adult/parent in their life, which in turn makes it difficult to get them to simply be a child under a caregiver’s home. Movies that portray caregivers as the less than equipped to properly care for children will merely help to reinforce the notion that a child must continue to care for themselves.
- Is a character being abandoned? Purposefully left behind?
If your child was not abandoned by a birth parent, they are more than likely still coping with the fact that they were taken from their birth home. It is important to be sensitive about movies or books that are portraying a character being left behind.
Be Available and Know Your Child
As we have briefly mentioned above, it is important to know your child when looking at a piece of media. There have been times where several foster parents have warned against viewing a certain movies. However, after viewing the movie, my child had no issue with it.
However, one cannot predict or protect a child from everything at all times. Thus, it is always good to be available to talk with your child about a piece of media. The pitfall that many of us caregivers fall into is simply being available to talk directly after viewing/reading something. Most people simply do not process that quickly. Days or weeks after being acquainted with a piece of media it is very possible that thoughts or ideas are going to percolate to the surface of your child’s mind. These are going to be ideas that they need help unpacking and thinking through with a safe and caring adult.