“Paper Tigers” in Northern Michigan

Documentary promotes a trauma informed community movement.

Several Local organizations, businesses and community members have been graciously teaming up to offer free screenings of the documentary “Paper Tigers” across Lower Northern Michigan.

Paper Tigers” is an intimate look into the lives of students at Lincoln High School, an alternative school that specializes in educating traumatized youth. Set amidst the rural community of Walla Walla, WA, the film examines the inspiring promise of Trauma Informed Communities - a movement that is showing great promise in healing youth struggling with the dark legacy of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES).

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study was published more than two decades ago by two respected researchers, clinical physician Dr. Vincent Felitti and CDC epidemiologist Robert Anda. The study revealed a troubling but indisputable phenomenon: the more traumatic experiences respondents have as children (such as physical and emotional abuse and neglect), the more likely they are to develop health problems later in life—problems such as cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure. To complicate matters, there was also a disturbing correlation between adverse childhood experiences and prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse, unprotected sex and poor diet. Collectively, the results of the study painted a confounding portrait of the price our children are paying for growing up in unsafe environments, all the while exacerbating some of society’s greatest challenges.

So, why is this film important for all community members, neighbors, teachers, parents and everyone in between to see? It is crucial for all because research has shown that adverse experiences and other trauma in childhood can be offset by the presence of one dependable and caring adult. It doesn’t need to be the mother or the father. It doesn’t even need to be a close or distant relative. It could be you!

Children survive and even thrive despite the trauma in their lives. For these children, adverse experiences are counterbalanced with protective factors. Adverse events and protective factors experienced together have the potential to foster resilience.

Our knowledge about what constitutes resilience in children is evolving, but we know that several factors are positively related to such protection, including cognitive capacity, healthy attachment relationships (especially with parents and caregivers), the motivation and ability to learn and engage with the environment, the ability to regulate emotions and behavior, and supportive environmental systems, including education, cultural beliefs, and faith-based communities. More detail is outlined in the Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework.

If you are interested in learning more about supporting those with adverse experiences, Michigan State University Extension classes can help support your endeavor. Explore: Nurturing Parenting, RELAX: Alternatives to Anger courses for adults and adolescent, Stress Less with Mindfulness, many other programs and informational articles that support building resiliency and the understanding of youth development.

The term “paper tiger” is a literal English translation of the Chinese phrase zhilaohu (紙老虎), which refers to something that seems threatening but is ineffectual and unable to withstand challenge. Perhaps with the increasing awareness and actions of caring adults, Northern Michigan can begin to transform some of our paper tigers into healthy, thriving youth.

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