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Childhood Friends
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The New York Times Magazine had an article, “Question of Resilience.” They asked the following question: Why do some children not only survive, but thrive, after enduring serious adversity, such as physical abuse, alcoholic or schizophrenic parents, or war and disasters? When evaluated for mental health, success in school or at work, or in formation of deep personal relationships, these people don’t appear to have been damaged. There are 20 to 40 percent of victims who emerge unscathed, resilient and strong. How did it happen?

A major component is genetic. Resilient children are often those with average or above average intelligence; they are those with one or both long alleles on each 5-HTT gene, critical for the regulation of serotonin to the brain, promoting well-being and protecting against depression in response to trauma or stress. Well, wonderful. There’s nothing that can be done about nature.

Nurture, on the other hand, has a large part in how individuals survive an abusive environment. Psychologists have measured the mitigating effect of abused children’s relationships to adults, when they have found a person they can talk to about personal things, share good news with, get advice from. This person can be an aunt, a grandmother, a teacher, a Big Brother, some adult they can count on. This primary adult can make all the difference, ameliorating the effect abuse or insanity or pain.

And these relationships aren’t just the result of good luck. These resilient children are skillful at creating beneficial relationships with adults, relationships which are reciprocated by the adult. I think it’s called friendship; I know it’s experienced as love.

Make no mistake: abuse of children is traumatic, no matter the outcome, and just because some resilient children come to adulthood relatively whole, is no excuse for tolerating it. Understand also that the children of schizophrenics and bi-polar people have been subjected to abuse just as much as children who have been physically abused. Never underestimate psychological and emotional pain, even when the child is not damaged visibly. Those who are not protected genetically can get help medically; and being a friend to a child may make all the difference to him/her.

One thing though: you may never know what a difference you’ve made in a child’s life, since every child is an uncompleted tapestry--you may be that one friend he needed, when the rest of his life was a disaster.

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