This is in today’s issue of The Age:
A POVERTY of human relationships, much more than an absence of material resources, puts children at risk, according to a US expert on child abuse and trauma.
”You are much more likely to be healthy, much more likely to be able to learn more readily, much more likely to be resilient in the face of chaos, threat and trauma if you have lots of healthy relationships,” said Dr Bruce Perry, who is both a child psychiatrist and neurobiologist.
”This is not to say that it’s great to be poor. All I’m saying is that the real determining factor on whether you are healthy or not is relational health and wealth, not economic wealth … it’s as simple and powerful as that.”
Dr Perry, whose visit to Melbourne is sponsored by the children’s service Berry Street, will speak this week to social workers, Children’s Court magistrates and officials from the Department of Human Services. He is also taking his message on ”relational enrichment” to Victoria’s Minister for Community Services, Lisa Neville.
Dr Perry, a professor at Northwestern University in Chicago, said research revealed that ”huge parts of our brains” were dedicated to reading, responding and communicating with other people, verbally and otherwise.
”But we are living more and more separately, and children are watching more and more television and adopting more and more electronic interaction,” he said.
”What’s happening, we believe, is that the relational experiences required to fully express the capacity to be humans are not taking place.”
Dr Perry said there was a ”ton of science” showing up these deficits beyond obvious at-risk populations where, for example, a child has a family member with a drug problem.
He cites a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania that examined measures of empathy among US college students.
”In the last 10 years the empathy measures have basically been cut about in half,” Dr Perry said. ”We believe it is related to [people having] far fewer opportunities to provide patterned, repetitive continuation to the relational part of the brains — that is, basically, human contact, human conversation.”
Loneliness has to be one of the great scourges of our time. Many people live alone or have few supportive networks. So if you’re reading this, thank God if you have someone who cares for you. If you can, get up and back away from the computer now. Go and talk to someone near to you—your partner, a work colleague, a child. Show them they matter to you. Say “Thanks”. If they are somewhere else, ring or text them. Let’s build healthier relationships, for God’s sake.