Our developing understanding of child development: A new video on the effects of toxic stress

Written by Justin Preston

In a new animated short from the Atlantic, we learn a bit about the progress we’ve made in gaining a better understanding of child development.

More specifically, we learn about the impacts of toxic stress on the developing brain and, subsequently, the developing child (for more on toxic stress, see our previous article on the topic here). However, toxic stress experienced from a young age is not a lifetime sentence, even though it can have serious implications for future mental and physical health. The human brain has an incredible capacity for what researchers call “neural plasticity”, or the ability for the brain to be shaped by and adapt to its surroundings.

While there are a host of very serious negative effects related to the experience of toxic stress during childhood, traits like neural plasticity can enable youth to adapt and thrive in adverse conditions. There are also implications for “sensitive periods” where the brain is particularly susceptible to influence from environmental conditions. Some examples include exposure to educational enrichment activities, interpersonal stability, and serving as a trusted outlet for everyday stress and anxiety.

As mentors and mentoring program staff, these sensitive periods are an opportunity to foster the strengths already present in the youth while helping to develop areas that have been negatively impacted through exposure to toxic stress.