Fighting for the future

October 3, 2016
child hand holding adult hand

Children need positive experiences. Repeated negative experiences and a high stress environment can weaken brain development, and children whose brain development has been disrupted by experiences of stress risk problems later in life.

Michelle Brown is a doctoral student in her third year at the U’s Institute of Child Development. In her research she asks young adults about their experiences in childhood and adulthood and about factors such as social support and experiences with parents. Brown wants to know what factors may help children overcome adversity and prevent long-term negative outcomes.

The experience that you have in childhood doesn’t have to define you for the rest of your life. You can overcome it, and you can emerge resilient.

Research centered around children and families has become an integral part of her work at the Institute of Child Development.

“Working with the entire family really opened my eyes to see why the kids were acting in certain ways,” says Brown.

Brown began her undergraduate career as a psychology major with pre-med intentions, but her interests pulled her away from medical school. Serving as a tutor and an academic mentor with disadvantaged and under-resourced children clued her in to how much she enjoyed working with kids and teenagers who have experienced adversity.

“Adolescents are my dream population to work with,” she says.

One of her goals is to inform researchers, advocates, and family and social support networks about the tools they can use to prevent negative outcomes for victimized children and adolescents and help to improve their futures.

“I want kids who have been victimized or who have been abused or maltreated to not have this fate that people expect,” she says. “The experience that you have in childhood doesn’t have to define you for the rest of your life. You can overcome it, and you can emerge resilient.”

Learn about similar work at the University of Minnesota to close the opportunity gap

Watch Michelle Brown present her first-prize winning thesis at the Three Minute Thesis Competition, sponsored by the College of Education and Human Development.