To develop intellectually and emotionally, young people need physical and psychological safety at home, at school and in the community. Without such “safe places” – environments that support and encourage inquiry, exploration, and play without fear of harm – children aren’t able to get support, form positive relationships and concentrate on school.
Development of these crucial cognitive and social/emotional skills is stunted when children are continually exposed to environments of high stress – circumstances in which their stress responses are activated and stay that way for long periods of time. Researchers emphasize the need for young people to have the constant engagement of caring adults in their lives, from family, school and community organizations, who can form an environment of nurturing relationships and safe places in and out of school for young Americans to experience as they grow. Fear – real or imagined – of physical violence, bullying, injury or the effects of chronic neglect deprive children of the safe spaces they need to learn and develop.
Not only does over-exposure to stress interfere with intellectual and emotional development, it has long-term negative health effects. With fear responses stuck in the “on” position, children’s bodies must cope with chronically elevated levels of heart rates, stress hormones, blood sugar, and immune system responses. Over a time, these conditions wear bodies down, create chronic health problems that include increased likelihood to develop diabetes or cardiovascular disease, abuse drugs, or experience adult depression.
The answer is for all young people to have safe places to learn and grow constantly.