Centers for Disease Control: Majority of adults had a “troubled childhood”

Dec 28, 2010 at 12:38 p.m. ET

Do you feel like you had a difficult childhood? If you’re an adult who experienced a troubled childhood as a result of abuse, absent parents (from divorce or separation) or troubled family members, you are not alone. Almost 60% of Americans report having a troubled childhood. Keep reading for more information.

Sad little girl

Many people joke about having "dysfunctional childhoods," but abuse or other difficult family situations are no laughing matter. A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study finds that almost 60% of adults report adverse childhood experiences. Medline Plus summarizes the study and shares the details.

The study

For the study, 26,229 adults from Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas, Tennessee, Washington and Arkansas were surveyed. While the researchers note that it's impossible to assume that results apply to the rest of the country, they do believe that they would be similar in other parts of the United States.

"Adverse childhood experiences" common

While 60% of Americans reported having a troubled childhood, nine percent noted that they experienced five or more "adverse childhood experiences" such as physical, mental or sexual abuse, the absence of a parent or family dysfunction, which includes alcohol or drug abuse or domestic violence.

Specifically, "[a]dverse childhood experiences…included verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, incarceration of a family member, family mental illness, family substance abuse, domestic violence and divorce."

More statistics

The report found the following experiences from the adults surveyed:

  • Over seven percent had a family member in prison while they were children.
  • Over 16 percent of adults saw domestic violence in their family as children.
  • Approximately 29 percent were raised in an environment where drugs or alcohol were abused.
  • Over 19 percent lived with an individual who was mentally ill, depressed or suicidal.
  • Almost 15 percent had been physically abused.
  • Over 12 percent had been sexually abused.


The study noted that "the volume of abuse and dysfunction is significant." However, it's not possible to take the experiences that each person who had a traumatic childhood and use those to conclude what kind of future they will have.

At the same time, childhood abuse or traumatic experiences can cause physical health problems once victims become adults. The article included the opinion of Dr. Lee M. Sanders, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, who explained that children who were repeated victims of trauma are more likely to develop heart disease and cancer as adults.

The bottom line

Our children need protecting. "Adverse childhood experiences are common," said study coauthor Valerie J. Edwards, "We need to do a lot more to protect children and help families." Dr. Sanders suggests we need more programs that offer quality care to children, parenting programs and home visitation programs when children are still babies.

If you are concerned about a child you know, please do not ignore the situation or brush it off. Contact authorities. Additionally, if you are worried about your own family situation and your ability to protect your child, please seek help. Children rely on adults to care for and protect them.

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