In this first article in a three-part series about toxic stress, ICF International expert Venessa Marks and her co-author explore the characteristics of toxic stress, the cognitive and emotional challenges it presents for affected children, and how youth mentoring programs can help address its impact. In addition to ideas for how mentoring programs can leverage the latest information to improve their services, the article presents suggested resources for emerging research on toxic stress and its impact on both adult and child behavior.
Toxic stress differs from other types of stress as a response to very severe, frequent or long-lasting stressors that are not buffered by the presence of a loving, caring adult. The resulting negative impact on a child’s development often leads to challenges in the classroom and high-risk behaviors, such as substance abuse, overeating, or other types of risk-taking. Although children’s brains are altered by exposure to toxic stress, research shows that with the right interventions, brain development and functioning can and will improve.