We are grossly overusing the word trauma, and teachers are noticing the consequences.
Towards the end of the school year, my colleagues and I did a training session on trauma. We were given multiple examples of trauma that many of our students experience.
There was a wide range of what was considered trauma for children.
The word trauma in the session was used in discussing things like divorce to things like neglect and a multitude of things in between.
My colleagues and I had a discussion about the use and overuse of the word “trauma.”
As someone who works with 1000 children a day, I can tell you we are overusing the word trauma, and it’s having major consequences in our classrooms.
Inconvenience is Not Trauma
In my own attempt at gentle parenting my son was starting to expect apologies from me every time I intervened to stop him from doing something he wanted to do (cue playing soccer while holding a screwdriver).
So every time I inconvenienced him, he started asking me to apologize to him.
While I was proud of the fact that he was grasping the idea of apologizing, I didn’t like the entitlement of associating being inconvenienced with deserving an apology.
I don’t want him to inaccurately label inconvenience as trauma.
Gentle parenting is hard.
The shift to gentle parenting, is the idea of giving ourselves grace as parents. Because parenting is hard.
The problem comes when we label ourselves as victims of trauma because we had a generation of parents that didn’t necessarily subscribe to the same kind of parenting that our generation is choosing to use.
Are they not deserving of the same grace that we are trying to give ourselves now?
Because to label us as victims, and them as villians seems quite hypocritical. I believe that we are using the word trauma too casually as we parent.
What is the definition of trauma?
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network explains trauma occurs when a child “feels intensely threatened by an event he or she is involved in or witnesses.”
Being yelled at by my parents as a kid occasionally because I was probably being an asshole does not make me a victim of trauma.
Writing tests or doing presentations for the majority of students is not traumatic.
They are stressful, and nerve wrecking, but not traumatic.
Having your parents sign you out of every single test in a semester will cause a child to start confusing inconvenience with trauma.
These things are uncomfortable feelings you have to learn to sit with and move on from. It does not make you the victim of a trauma. Maybe it is just a lack of grit.
How does overusing the word trauma affect our classrooms?
Overusing the word trauma is allowing some children to adopt a perpetual state of victimhood, because their parents have never forced them to have uncomfortable feelings.
So when students are in trouble they have no concept of resilience to cope with them.
You think I’m exaggerating?
We had a student shoot an air gun pellet at another student in our parking lot, and they were suspended for three weeks. The mother of the student demanded that his teachers teach him online because he was being “traumatized” by not being allowed to be in the school and see his friends.
What happens when we dilute real trauma?
Far more dangerous than entitlement, is the dilution of real trauma.
People have faced multiple forms of abuse, and real neglect. They’ve witnessed the atrocities of war, or the rape or murder of a family member.
Students who live in marginalized communities grappling with generations of systemic discrimination experience trauma.
Students who watched an active shooter rip bullet holes into their friends experienced trauma. Those who have been displaced by war or natural disaster.
We have students who are now filtering into our classrooms from Ukraine, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. They have stories that keep me up at night. They have trauma that needs to be addressed.
Getting dumped by your first love is hard, and it royally sucks, but it’s not traumatic in the same way that dangerous situations are traumatic.
I don’t want my sons to see themselves as the victims of trauma because they had to do hard things.
These conversations are necessary, and maybe it’s time we revisit the definition of trauma and its implications. We need to do this in our parenting and in our communities.
The consequences of its misuse and overuse are proving to be devastating.