The Emotional and Behavioral Impact of Terrorism on Children

Results from a National Survey

Published in: Applied Developmental Science, v. 8, no. 4, 2004, p. 184-194

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2004

by Bradley D. Stein, Lisa H. Jaycox, Marc N. Elliott, Rebecca L. Collins, Sandra H. Berry, Grant N. Marshall, David J. Klein, Mark A. Schuster

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To examine the emotional and behavioral impact of terrorism on children across the country, telephone interviews were conducted with a national probability sample of 395 parents of 5- to 18-year-old children from November 9 to 28, 2001. Parents reported on child emotional and behavioral reactions to terrorism, parent-child discussions about terrorism, and terrorism-related school activities. Thirty percent of parents reported more than 4 terrorism-related emotional or behavioral reactions in their child. Latinos and parents with lower household incomes reported greater terrorism-related reactions in children. Thirty-eight percent of parents reported talking with their child about terrorism for 1 hr or more in the week prior to the interview. Topics of terrorism-related parent-child discussions included the child's fears for his or her own safety, taking precautions against anthrax, and avoiding large gathering places. Children's emotional and behavioral reactions were positively associated with the frequency of parents' discussions about all 3 topics; the last 2 precautionary topics were also more common in households where respondents had less education, were non-White, and had lower household incomes. Two-thirds of parents also reported activities in their child's school in response to terrorism, such as conducting special classroom activities or assemblies (44%), providing counseling for students (44%), and providing materials or information for parents (44%) to help children cope. Significant differences in terrorism-related topics discussed and symptoms reported among different sociodemographic groups suggest that the impact of terrorism may be unevenly distributed across society, which has important implications for terrorism preparedness and response policies.

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