Children and youth can face emotional strains after a traumatic event such as a car crash or violence.

Disasters also may leave them with long-lasting harmful effects.

When children experience a trauma, watch it on TV, or overhear others discussing it, they can feel scared, confused, or anxious. Young people react to trauma differently than adults.

Some may react right away; others may show signs that they are having a difficult time much later. 

As such, adults do not always know when a child needs help coping. This tip sheet will help parents, caregivers, and teachers learn some common reactions, respond in a helpful way, and know when to seek support.

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By Mickey Goodman

Warning signs

When a college freshman received a C- on her first test, she literally had a meltdown in class. Sobbing, she texted her mother who called back, demanding to talk to the professor immediately (he, of course, declined). Another mother accompanied her child on a job interview, then wondered why he didn’t get the job.

A major employer reported that during a job interview, a potential employee told him that she would have his job within 18 months. It didn’t even cross her mind that he had worked 20 years to achieve his goal.

Sound crazy?

Sadly, the stories are all true, says Tim Elmore, founder and president of a non-profit, Growing Leaders, and author of the “Habitudes®” series of books, teacher guides, DVD kits and survey courses. “Gen Y (and iY) kids born between 1984 and 2002 have grown up in an age of instant gratification. iPhones, iPads, instant messaging and immediate access to data is at their fingertips,” he says. “Their grades in school are often negotiated by parents rather than earned and they are praised for accomplishing little. They have hundreds of Facebook and Twitter ‘friends,’ but often few real connections.”

To turn the tide, Growing Leaders is working with 5,000 public schools, universities, civic organizations, sports teams and corporations across the country and internationally to help turn young people — particularly those 16 to 24 — into leaders. “We want to give them the tools they lack before they’ve gone through three marriages and several failed business ventures,” he says.

But why have parents shifted from teaching self-reliance to becoming hovering helicopter parents who want to protect their children at all costs?

“I think it began in the fall of 1982, when seven people died after taking extra-strength Tylenol laced with poison after it left the factory,” he says. Halloween was just around the corner, and parents began checking every item in the loot bags. Homemade brownies and cookies (usually the most coveted items) hit the garbage; unwrapped candy followed close behind.

That led to an obsession with their children’s safety in every aspect of their lives. Instead of letting them go outside to play, parents filled their kid’s spare time with organized activities, did their homework for them, resolved their conflicts at school with both friends and teachers, and handed out trophies for just showing up.

“These well-intentioned messages of ‘you’re special’ have come back to haunt us,” Elmore says. “We are consumed with protecting them instead of preparing them for the future. We haven’t let them fall, fail and fear. The problem is that if they don’t take risks early on like climbing the monkey bars and possibly falling off, they are fearful of every new endeavor at age 29.”

Psychologists and psychiatrists are seeing more and more young people having a quarter-life crisis and more cases of clinical depression. The reason? Young people tell them it’s because they haven’t yet made their first million or found the perfect mate.

Teachers, coaches and executives complain that Gen Y kids have short attention spans and rely on external, instead of internal motivation. The goal of Growing Leaders is to reverse the trend and help young people become more creative and self-motivated so they can rely on themselves and don’t need external motivation.

Family psychologist John Rosemond agrees. In a February 2 article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, he points out that new research finds that rewards often backfire, producing the opposite effect of that intended. When an aggressive child is rewarded for not being aggressive for a short period of time, he is likely to repeat the bad behavior to keep the rewards coming.

Where did we go wrong?

• We’ve told our kids to dream big – and now any small act seems insignificant. In the great scheme of things, kids can’t instantly change the world. They have to take small, first steps – which seem like no progress at all to them. Nothing short of instant fame is good enough. “It’s time we tell them that doing great things starts with accomplishing small goals,” he says.

• We’ve told our kids that they are special – for no reason, even though they didn’t display excellent character or skill, and now they demand special treatment. The problem is that kids assumed they didn’t have to do anything special in order to be special.

• We gave our kids every comfort – and now they can’t delay gratification. And we heard the message loud and clear. We, too, pace in front of the microwave, become angry when things don’t go our way at work, rage at traffic. “Now it’s time to relay the importance of waiting for the things we want, deferring to the wishes of others and surrendering personal desires in the pursuit of something bigger than ‘me,’” Elmore says.

• We made our kid’s happiness a central goal – and now it’s difficult for them to generate happiness — the by-product of living a meaningful life. “It’s time we tell them that our goal is to enable them to discover their gifts, passions and purposes in life so they can help others. Happiness comes as a result.”

The uncomfortable solutions:

“We need to let our kids fail at 12 – which is far better than at 42,” he says. “We need to tell them the truth (with grace) that the notion of ‘you can do anything you want’ is not necessarily true.”

Kids need to align their dreams with their gifts. Every girl with a lovely voice won’t sing at the Met; every Little League baseball star won’t play for the major leagues.

• Allow them to get into trouble and accept the consequences. It’s okay to make a “C-.” Next time, they’ll try harder to make an “A”.

• Balance autonomy with responsibility. If your son borrows the car, he also has to re-fill the tank.

• Collaborate with the teacher, but don’t do the work for your child. If he fails a test, let him take the consequences.

“We need to become velvet bricks,” Elmore says, “soft on the outside and hard on the inside and allow children to fail while they are young in order to succeed when they are adults.”

 Phillip LeConte & Kelly LeConte with father Robert LeConte. 
Phillip LeConte & Kelly LeConte with father Robert LeConte.

My name is Phillip LeConte; I am the Executive Director of the Junior Police Academy. Kelly LeConte, my sister, is our Program Director.

Twenty years ago, back in 1992, the Junior Police Academy got started by tapping into a simple, yet powerful idea: when you bring police officers and kids together, you get better police officers and better kids.

In this regard, you could say that my sister Kelly and I are true believers. 

 Phillip LeConte with father Robert LeConte
Phillip LeConte with father Robert LeConte

Our father, Robert LeConte, served on our hometown police department, and together with our wonderful mother, guided us throughout his life. It is something of an understatement to say that we all are better for the experience.

In a sense, Kelly and I were the first JPA cadets – no t-shirts, but plenty regiment.  I can’t say that it was always easy. It wasn’t.

Law enforcement officers work in shifts, and family life is often in the shadow of its demands. Still, I would not trade those experiences. They have informed and enriched my life in ways that have become easier to define over the years. 

 Kelly &  Phillip  LeConte
Kelly & Phillip LeConte

Since our father’s death in 2000, my sister and I have found great solace in working with police officers across the country. Watching these men and women work with young people invariably reminds me of that fundamental virtue Dad furnished Kelly and I – namely a rock-solid, uncomplicated anchor upon which we could always rely.

In today’s world of virtual connectedness, young people, now more than
ever, need to engage with someone unambiguously authentic. That is the
promise of the Junior Police Academy – to bring young people and police
officers together and then stand back.

The essential quality of what happens next is part of the living legacy of Robert LeConte, our father. 

Kelly and I extend our gratitude to all of you who have helped keep it alive.

In June 2018 we learned from the Washington Post that pediatrician Dr. Colleen Kraft found conditions at a Mexican border children’s detention center to be a friendly environment where children could be happy and well fed.  It was clean. There was a playground.  Toys, books and crayons were readily available. 

But in an environment where traumatized children were kept while parents were being processed by the government, something was terribly wrong.  Kids were having meltdowns and staff members could only try to calm them down from a distance.  A shelter worker told Kraft that she was not allowed to hug, pick up or touch any of the children. “The really basic, foundational needs of having trust in adults as a young child was not being met. That contradicts everything we know that the kids need to build their health,” Kraft said.

When we received the news about our no-touch policy for migrant children, saw the pictures of sobbing toddlers, and heard the now infamous recording of little kids crying for their parents, there came an almost universal response of indignation.  Something was triggered in the hearts of compassionate people across the country. 

Why were we denying these little ones the human contact that might provide them with comfort, support and consolation?  But for those of us who serve children and families as chaplains, teachers, clergy, social workers, counselors, law enforcement officers, school resource officers, coaches and other care workers, the no-touch policies within our agencies have been the norm for a long, long time.

The Origins of Our Slow Burning National Hysteria

A slow burning national hysteria of sorts began to build with the Florida kidnapping and death of six year old Adam Walsh in 1981. Then there was the McMartin Preschool sexual abuse investigation and trial in California, and the Minnesota kidnapping, sexual abuse and murder of eleven year old Jacob Wetterling.  The decade of the 1980’s seemed to inform us that there were predators around every corner.  By 1985 pictures of missing kids were showing up on milk cartons. 700 of the nation’s 1,800 independent dairies had adopted the practice.  I was the father of two little girls during those years.  And despite the fact that my already long career of working with kids in trouble informed me differently, I began to worry about the safety of my girls.  Some concern was warranted of course.  But studies have clearly demonstrated that the overwhelming majority (as high as 99 per cent) of child abuse and abductions happen at the hands of family members.

Good things have happened as a result of our national worry about kids.  The U.S. Congress passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act on July 25, 2006, and President Bush signed it into law on July 27.  The bill institutes a national database of convicted child molesters, and increases penalties for sexual and violent offenses against children.

The negative consequence has been this flood of no-touch policies in schools, camps, churches, treatment centers, detention centers, group homes and other places/agencies.  These policies and procedures are aimed not only at those who serve kids…but at the kids themselves.  Some school districts have policies that prohibit touching between students and teachers unless it is “exigent circumstance” (the kid is about to fall backwards down the stairs, breaking up a fight, etc.).

The resulting disciplinary actions can range from a verbal warning, an official written warning at the school level, probationary status or loss of job, censure from the state regulatory agency, revocation of teaching license, criminal charges and imprisonment.

It goes without saying that some kind of touching is certainly inappropriate.  But no touch policies which outlaw and punish touching of any kind carry a higher cost that we could have ever imagined.  Dr. Matthew J. Hertenstein, Ph.D., chair of psychology at DePauw University conducted research and cites several studies that point to the basic human need for contact.

He writes, “Touch reduces both physiological and perceived stress” and can promote “social bonding and wellness” as well as feelings of security. And in a recent study on neonatal intensive care units, babies who received touch reported 47 percent higher weight gain and came home six days sooner than infants who did not receive contact. 

In 2011 he authored The Handbook of Touch: Neuroscience, Behavioral, and Health Perspectives.  He writes about oxytocin, which has been called the “bonding hormone”. It is a so-called super hormone and neurotransmitter that helps with everything from illness recovery, life length, addiction recovery, depression recovery and anxiety prevention. Oxytocin is released through touch: hand holding, hugs, putting your arms around shoulders and so on. Hertenstein says this hormone lays the biological foundation and structure for connecting with others.

Psychologists have called on schools to change their attitudes towards physical contact with students, explaining to parents that touch is not only necessary but an integral part of the teacher-pupil relationship. Professor Francis McGlone, head of affective neuroscience at Liverpool John Moores University, said that physical contact with students is “absolutely essential” for children’s brain development.  With this in mind, what are we to do?  The risks of hugging, patting and touching the children in our care are far outweighed by the harm we are doing by keeping a safe distance.  We cannot be compassionate, be open to the suffering of others, or be effective healers if we cannot touch those in pain.

A Part of Healing

I remember an occasion back in the early 1990’s when I was the clinical coordinator of an inpatient addiction treatment center in North Carolina.  A fifteen-year-old boy had been admitted to our hospital with serious alcohol and drug disorders.  He was also a victim of sexual abuse by his stepfather and several other men. The youngster flinched any time a staff member tried to touch him. 

His response to a hug by his female counselor was to stiffen with arms glued to his sides.  She was determined that the source of his substance abuse disorder was rooted in the abuse.  One of her therapies was to engage Tim in a psychodrama where he could confront his abuser and ultimately hit back with using a spongey nerf bat.  She told me that the kid trusted me and asked if I would role play the abuser in the group. 

I agreed but was unprepared for the emotion and violence which was unleashed.  When he was done lashing out at me with words and the bat, he was sobbing and fell into my arms.  I hugged him for several moments and the hug was returned.  Later in the day he came to my office and thanked me.  He said that he never felt free before in his whole life.  Several weeks went by when I happened into his group room once again.  A new girl had been admitted and was responding to hugs the way Tim used to.  He went up to her and gave a big bear hug saying, “That’s not the way you hug.  This is how you do it.” The girl wept.  Tim had found the healing power of good touch. He truly was free.

One thing we should do as those who care for children is to teach or remind them that there are three kinds of touch; Safe touches. These are touches that keep children safe and are good for them, and that makes children feel cared for and important. Safe touches can include hugging, pats on the back, and an arm around the shoulder. Safe touches can also include touches that might hurt, such as removing a splinter. Explain to children that when you remove a splinter, you’re doing so to keep them healthy, which makes it a safe touch.

Unsafe touches. These are touches that hurt children’s bodies or feelings (for example, touching private parts, hitting, pushing, pinching, and kicking). Teach children that these kinds of touches are not okay.

Unwanted touches. These are touches that might be safe but that a child doesn’t want from that person or at that moment. It’s okay for a child to say no to an unwanted touch, even if it’s from a familiar person. Help your children practice saying no in a strong, yet polite voice. This will help them learn to set personal boundaries.

So, in answer to the question I posed of ‘what are we to do’, the answer must be that we take the risk by offering appropriate touching and hugging to kids…especially those who are suffering in one way or another.  We cannot neglect them any longer by our fear. Because it isn’t touching that’s wrong. It’s the wrong kind of touch that is wrong.


Robert Kenneth Jones

Innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.

 In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.
His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.

Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin
Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast

The Role of School Resource Officers in Our Current Crisis by Robert Kenneth Jones

“Every student is fighting a daily battle that we know nothing about. We may think that student behavior at a given moment is driven by something trivial, but it often has much deeper roots than what’s visible on the surface. The key is to build relationships with students before problems arise.” ~ Justin Schlottman SRO of Cedar Crest High School in Pennsylvania

As a School Resource Officer you wear so many hats and have so many different job descriptions.  You are law enforcement officers but also serve as mentors, counselors, teacher, mediators and big brothers/sisters.

You are role models and heroes for our children.Justin Schlottman tells us the truth.  The kids that you serve are fighting dragons that we might not see but which can manifest in behaviors at the slightest provocation.  When the SRO has developed trusting and safe relationships with students, those dragons can be vanquished.  Sometimes, the SRO is the only one who can save the day.

There are several new tools available to SROs and school systems that can enable us to deliver more meaningful help and guidance to children and adolescents. Becoming aware of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Trauma Informed Care are among those important research based tools. Becoming ACEs aware and Trauma Informed will allow us to build safer schools.Here are some ways to better understand what you can do with ACEs and Trauma Informed Care at school.

  1. Every SRO can join ACEs Connection to learn more about Adverse Childhood Experiences. Officers can receive free training by visiting the online Central Texas trauma resource Communities in Schools.  ACEs Connection also has a good article which provides basic ACEs/Trauma information for SRO’s that is a must-read.
  2. After receiving ACEs training, SROs can spearhead the use of ACEs questionnaire at the schools they serve. The SRO can influence school counselors and administrators better than anyone else.  They have already gained the trust and confidence of faculty and students due to positive relationship building.
  3. Encourage school administrators, school boards, and other decision-makers to host a screening of Paper Tigers utilizing their extensive resource guides and press kit. This is a great start to easing zero tolerance policies while instituting trauma informed policies to end school violence.
  4. Expand the role of School Resource Officers by having them conduct Risk Assessment Checklists. Data gathered which would identify students who have a high potential for harm could be kept confidential to avoid target profiling or treating at-risk kids with suspicion. It could also divert traumatized kids to specialized trauma informed alternative schools which already exist in almost every county.

Focusing on trauma, however, can lead us to over-focus on negative events to the neglect of protective and positive factors. Collecting details of adverse situations in people’s lives is necessary but falls short when delivering resilience that kids need to flourish.  Trauma Informed Care is essential but is incomplete if we fail to focus on individuals’ character strengths and competencies.

Action-oriented interventions are completely in the prevue of School Resource Officers.So just what is Resilience?  Psychology Today describes it like this;“Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes. Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback.

Even after misfortune, resilient people are blessed with such an outlook that they are able to change course and soldier on.”The first thing which must happen is that kids have to start thinking of themselves and seeing themselves differently. So, with Resilience in mind, I will offer three handouts of presentations, and workshops/discussion groups which I have developed over the years.  Feel free to use them.  They are designed to empower and inform kids of their inherent ability to overcome and succeed despite (or even because of) negative things that have happened in their lives.

Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse. In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers. His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.

Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin

Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast

JPA’s learning channel takes you behinds the scenes to visit with the innovative instructors who have pioneered the program nationwide.

Select from the videos below and sample not only the sights and sounds of JPA, but the spirit of this unique and life changing program.

It starts with a police officer and a room full of kids

For over two decades, the Junior Police Academy has supported the efforts of police officers across the country who know first-hand the power of reaching out to the young people in their community.

Bridging the Gap

Chief Tom Clemons

“Junior Police Academy bridges the tremendous gap between today’s youth and law enforcement officers.” stated Chief Thomas Clemons (Seward, Alaska).  “I know from experience, JPA has lasting impact on a youngster’s attitude toward public safety and their role as a citizen.”

It’s time to step up.

The most urgent issues of the day…

  • School safety
  • The bond between police officers and citizens
  • Inspiring young people to contribute to the life of their community

…these are at the very heart of the Junior Police Academy.

Jump to Getting Started

Connecting with Kids is designed to change the way young people perceive law enforcement in America!

From SRO’s to FBI Agents, your cadets will discover the vital role law enforcement plays in securing the safety of all our citizens.

Through classroom discussions and student activities, cadets develop a deeper appreciation of law enforcement. Full semester course for those who wish to offer JPA as an elective course in middle schools or high schools.


American Police Officer is a course in character building from the Junior Police Academy. The program is an extension of the Junior Police Academy’s central philosophy:  To truly inspire good character, you have to put kids in the room with it!

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“American Police Officer: A Course in Character,” explores the meaning and consequences of good character as seen through the eyes of law enforcement and those who work in the criminal justice system.

Through this course, students will learn both the skills and the virtues needed to become informed and productive citizens.

Bomb Squad, CSI, SWAT, Patrol Officer, FBI Special Agent – each is an opportunity for young people to connect and learn from members of your own community who hold a kind of advanced degree in good character.

Get direct link to course materials.

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“Classroom Success for the School Resource Officer” is a course for police officers looking to make the transition into the classroom.

Written by JPA Co-founder and retired teacher Officer Suzannne D’Ambrose, the course is a comprehensive training program  for members of law enforcement agencies interested in working with young  people in the classroom.

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Online Course

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Longtime JPA board member Suzanne D’Ambrose has spent years honing her skills as an educator.  In Classroom Success for the School Resource Officer, she puts her years of experience in a quick, easy to understand course.

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