The findings out of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shed further light on the potential impact that stress has on the particularly vulnerable state of our children. These stressful events, usually at the hands of grown-ups and referred to as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), doubled their risk of premature death in adulthood.

Researchers arrived at their conclusions by studying more than 17,000 adults. After gathering pertinent information about their youth, they followed their subjects over the course of eleven years. By the end of the study, 1539 people had died, and the traumatic events in their lives that would qualify as ACEs were then counted. These included severe verbal and physical abuse, witnessing domestic violence towards their mothers, being surrounded by substance abuse or mental illness, having a member of the family in prison, and parental separation and divorce.

What the data indicates is that those adults who experienced at least six ACEs while they were young died on average 20 years sooner than those that did not. What also troubled the authors was that two-thirds of the study’s subjects experienced at least one ACE when they were young, indicating a greater prevalence of stress than previously imagined.

Then again, stress is a familiar part of modern life. Though in certain instances it can have a positive influence, even in children, we generally think of stress in terms of its negative health consequences, which can include high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and depression.

For children it can have an even greater impact, especially when they are younger than 10 years of age and have certain predispositions that put them at greater risk. These include limited cognitive capacity as well as lower thresholds for external and internal stimuli. As a result, children will sometimes develop coping mechanisms that can manifest themselves as toxic and unhealthy behavior.

While the article did not identify the exact root cause of a shorter lifespan, it is not a stretch to think that a combination of factors, all related to stress, would contribute to the problem. With this in mind, it would be instructive for us to remember that our kids are out there watching and listening, and our actions and words have a more profound impact on them than we realize. This, of course, makes it all the more important for us to keep tabs on our behavior when our children are present.

As the story suggests, their lives may depend on it.