Seeing Violence Can Affect Kids More Than Adults Realize
WebMD News Archive
The study interviewed the children and their parents separately about each
child's exposure to violence. For the children, researchers used cartoon
depictions of such acts as shooting, robbery, beating, and shoving to determine
how much violence they had been exposed to.
Parents and children were also asked whether the children showed any
behavior problems. Again using cartoon figures, children were asked whether
they had feelings of sadness, a lack of appetite, a fear of going outside
because of possible violence, upsetting memories, or nightmares.
On almost all measures, the children reported higher levels of exposure than
the parents reported. For example, 37% of the children said they had witnessed
severe violence, but only 7.7% of the parents reported this. Similarly, 31% of
the children said they were victims of severe violence, but only 0.8% of
parents said their children were victims.
Shahinfar believes this may be because parents are unaware of their
children's exposure to violence -- for instance, if the child spends part of
his day in child care -- or because the parents may repress such
"We need to be sensitive to the idea that kids may not perceive violence
in the same way as adults do," Shahinfar tells WebMD. "We need to let
kids tell us what has been traumatic for them and to help them work through
The investigators realized that not all children were able to give accurate
answers when questioned, and some often mixed fantasy with reality. However,
close to half of the children were thought to have shown a high level of
"It's time to move beyond saying that young children are not affected by
witnessing violence. In fact, they are affected by witnessing violence and it
can impact them in very significant ways," Joy Osofsky PhD, tells WebMD.
Osofsky, a professor of public health, psychiatry, and pediatrics at Louisiana
State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, reviewed the study for
She says that both the public and physicians must recognize that witnessing
violence is a problem and that something can be done.