As an organization that is dedicated to enhancing the lives of young people and creating environments in which they can best develop and thrive, we are disturbed to see news about what is happening in the migrant detention centers along the southern border. Regardless of where our views may land on the United States’ immigration policy, we know that the conditions along both sides of the border are traumatizing for children.1 In particular, we are concerned with the U.S. policy of separating children from their families.
Long-Term Effects of Childhood Trauma
When children are separated from their parents, it disrupts one of the most essential bonds in human biology and one upon which a child’s sense of safety is reliant. Forced and prolonged separation causes damage to the part of the brain that deals with attachment and fear, and causes long-term damage.2 This damage includes higher rates of depression and anxiety later in life, as well as increased aggression, withdrawal, and developmental difficulties.3
Charles Nelson, a pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School says, “The effect is catastrophic. There’s so much research on this that if people paid attention at all to the science, they would never do this.”
“The effect is catastrophic. There’s so much research on this that if people paid attention at all to the science, they would never do this.”
Building Resilience to Take Action
As educators, we dedicate our lives to supporting the healthy development of children. As mandated reporters, we are required by law to alert Child Protective Services if we are aware that a child is in danger. When considering the conditions at the border, therefore, it makes sense that feelings of distress, powerlessness, anger, confusion, compassion, and more can arise for us.
One powerful place to begin to work with these feelings is through our mindfulness practice.
A common misconception is that mindfulness is a passive practice – simply about acceptance, compassion, and sending kind thoughts.
On the contrary, mindfulness is a practice that can open up our creativity and capacity to support ourselves and our students, as well as to take greater action in our communities. When considering the crisis at the border, one benefit our practice gives us is a place to face our feelings and process all that this situation brings up. While this can be painful and difficult, facing our feelings enables us to understand and transform them into resources to take action. Mindfulness can also influence how we fuel the work – with anger, sadness, anxiety, or alternatively, with clarity and resolve. Jessica Morey expands on this idea in this talk on mindfulness and activism.
A Call to Action
Try Trauma-Informed Tools to Support Students
When news of this nature makes national headlines, it can often show up in the classroom. If you are in need of tools to best support your students, the first step should always be to connect with your site principal for ideas and strategies appropriate for youth in your setting. In addition, we recommend Dr. Poonam Desai’s 8 tips for How Teachers Can Use Trauma-Informed Mindfulness Practices to Support Their Students to augment your school’s plans.
Use Your Voice
Get engaged and contact your elected officials to share your thoughts.
Join our Community Mindfulness Practice
As a community, we can turn to one another for support and for shared humanity. Through connecting with one another, we gain solace that we are not alone. To deepen that connection, we are planning a monthly community practice. We will livestream a mindfulness meditation guided by one of our community members so that we have dedicated time to be together and practice with one another. Sign up here to get more information and receive an invitation to this monthly practice.
The first community mindfulness practice will be dedicated to the families who are fighting to be reunited with their loved ones.
We look forward to practicing with you.
Megan Sweet, EdD
Director of Training, Mindful Schools
- Fore, H. (2019). Press Release, “Migrant children in the U.S.lack protection and services needed to ensure their wellbeing,” Unicef. Accessed from the internet on July 21, 2019, https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/migrant-children-us-lack-protection-and-services-needed-ensure-their-wellbeing.
- Wan, W (2018). “What separation from parents does to children: ‘The effect is catastrophic.” Washington Post. Accessed from the internet on July 14, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/what-separation-from-parents-does-to-children-the-effect-is-catastrophic/.
- Dzung, X et al (2019). “Psychologists and pediatricians know that families belong together: A call to action.” Blog post, Union of Concerned Scientists. Accessed from the internet on July 13, 2019. https://blog.ucsusa.org/science-blogger/psychologists-and-pediatricians-know-that-families-belong-together-a-call-to-action.