This month this column is focusing on a troubling topic: community violence and its impact on our children. A review was published in the Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review (Springer, 2009) which focused on community violence and its effect on youth. This writer owes a great deal of intellectual debt to the Springer report for its research and academic labor, which served as an appropriate guide in preparation of these articles.
For the purpose of this article series, “violence” is defined as the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person or against a group or community that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, or deprivation. “Children” is any individual who is not yet an adult who is directly or indirectly exposed to violence that poses a real threat or a perceived threat to the individual’s or an affiliated person’s life or bodily integrity.
There are several types of community violence. The form that has been researched the longest is media violence. Caregivers in the research on the effects of media violence have stated they do not watch local television news, nor do they allow their children to do so, for fear of hearing reports of harm befalling a family member or acquaintance. Studies in Chicago schools indicate that more than 70 percent of the shooting incidents youth witnessed involved a friend or family member as the victim; about 10 percent were a sibling or a parent. (Jenkins and Bell 1994; Uehara et al. 1996)
The form of exposure to community violence that has received the most recent attention in the U.S. is war/terrorism or “world” violence. For example, the media coverage of the Iraq War provided Americans (families and children) the experience of war in real time. Researchers have suggested that there is a dosage effect regarding children’s exposure to violence in the media; the more exposure through television, the more post-traumatic stress symptoms they experience. (Lorion 1998) Children may be affected by war or terrorism, not only through the media, but also by disruptions or changes in their regular routines at school and in other activities. Additionally, knowing or seeing an adult who has been upset or affected about an attack may affect children.
(Stuber et al. 2002)
What is the impact of war/terrorism on the emotional, behavioral, and academic functioning of American children? This question is difficult to answer for American youth, as there are likely cohort effects. For example, following the 911 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, American children were widely exposed to “world” violence, and later initiation of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. These events exposed American youth to world violence not only through the media (e.g., news reports), but also through hearsay from military personnel (e.g., friends, relatives).
Beloved, the World Report on Violence and Health 2002 (“WRVH”) recognized community violence as a major public health problem that Americans increasingly understand has adverse implications beyond inner cities. The public health impact of living in violent communities is significant, particularly for children. Among the emotional, behavioral and academic achievement correlates are anxiety, depression, disruptive and aggressive behavior, substance use, school disengagement, and academic failure. Most importantly, chronic community violence has detrimental effects to child development through the lifespan; from early childhood into adolescence and beyond.*
*Note: Various sources were cited for this article. Space restrictions prohibit the inclusion of the complete bibliography. If you would like a copy of the full citation, please contact this writer.
Next week: Continuation
The writer does not assume responsibility in any way for readers’ efforts to apply or utilize information or recommendations made in this article, as they may not be necessarily appropriate for every situation to which they may refer. This information is for educational purposes only. If you would like to contact Rev. Lester, write to her c/o P.O. Box 121, Brookfield, WI. 53008.