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Witnessing violence damages children.

A commentary released in the Journal of the American Medical Association (1-13-93) reveals the damaging and potentially long-lasting effects witnessing violence has on children. Based on the studies cited in the commentary, children who witness violence either in the community or in their homes are usually themselves indirect victims of that violence and suffer serious emotional and developmental problems. According to Barry Zuckerman, M.D., professor of pediatrics and public health, Boston University School of Public Health, "the purpose of the commentary is to bring to the attention of physicians that children who witness violence are victims; though they are not physically harmed, they are emotionally hurt."

Zuckerman, who also heads the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Boston City Hospital, was part of a study released in early 1992 that found one of every 10 children seen at the Hospital's pediatric primary care clinic had witnessed a shooting or stabbing before the age of six. The average age of children in this study was only 2.7 years. "Clinically, we began wondering if the problems teachers and professionals were seeing in children's behavior were related to the violence they were witnessing," said Zuckerman. When Zuckerman and a group of concerned pediatric and child mental health professionals began researching this hypothesis, they found that witnessing violence had serious and potentially long-lasting effects on children.

The commentary, based on a review of recent studies and clinical experience, indicates exposure to violence adversely affects children's development in many areas, including the ability to function in school, emotional stability and orientation toward the future. Children who have witnessed violence also may display symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder such as diminished ability to concentrate in school, persistent sleep disorders, flashbacks, disordered attachment behaviors with significant caretakers, sudden startling and nihilistic, fatalistic orientation toward the future.

Additionally, preliminary evidence suggests that pre-school children may be especially vulnerable to the effects of exposure to violence because this is such a critical time in their development. At this stage, they lack the language skills to communicate their fears and reactions, which diminishes their ability to cope effectively with the trauma.
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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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