Unfortunately, we don’t live in a peaceful world. While caregivers try to keep their children out of harm’s way, it’s often an aspect of life that they’re exposed to; whether directly or indirectly. The effects of exposure to violence can be positive, as well as negative, and is dependent on several factors, including level of exposure and consequences.
Children’s awareness of the reality of crime and violence can be a springboard to their understanding of safety. Recognizing that violence exists can encourage them to be more aware of their surrroundings, and with the guidance of adults, learn the difference between right and wrong/safe and unsafe. Children raised in violent neighborhoods (as evidenced by high crime rates) may experience increased motivation to overcome their circumstances as adults, and if provided with adequate resources, can accomplish just that.
Unfortunately, there are also negative effects to violence and crime. However, it is important to remember that each child is unique and so, impacts of exposure to violence may vary by child. A study conducted in Chicago demonstrated that children’s performance on vocabulary and reading tests decreased after a violent crime occurred within the same week in their neighborhood, regardless of their witnessing it directly or not. Poor test scores persisted for more than a week. If such violence is persistent, we can just imagine the cumulative effect on children’s academic performance.
Exposure to violence can have other implications, both short and long term, including sleep difficulties, depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties, aggression, and social withdrawal. These mental health implications can evolve over time into long term physical health challenges if left untreated.
Even for children whose neighborhoods are relatively crime free, violence still has an impact. The field of psychology has highlighted how children often learn from observation. In a landmark study by Albert Bandura in 1961, children viewed a woman aggressively interacting with a plastic, inflatable clown using a mallet. When later in a room with these toys, the children acted similarly, and even, in some instances, more violently than the model. Despite some of the criticisms regarding flaws in this study, repeatedly we’ve seen that children often act in similar ways to what they’ve seen.
An implication of this “monkey see, monkey do” finding is the impact of children viewing violent media. How caregivers tackle this in their homes can determine the implications in their children. Suggestions on safeguarding against the effects of violence, as well as ways to talk with children about violent media can be found when you Read More.