The Educational Cost of Violence is High

Children who live in urban communities are exposed to more violence than children from rural communities. Socioeconomically disadvantaged communities have higher rates of gun violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and homicides than more economically advantaged communities. Although the direct effect of this type of violence has been well established, the indirect effect of exposure to violence has been less studied. To get a better idea of how being exposed to, or living in, a community with high rates of violence impacts cognitive and behavioral functioning, Patrick T. Sharkey of the Department of Sociology at New York University recently led a study that examined assessments of preschool children who lived close to where a homicide had taken place compared to those who did not.

Sharkey discovered that the children who were in close proximity to the homicide had more behavior and attention problems than those who were not. They also exhibited weakened academic skills. The data was based on homicides that had occurred within the previous week, which suggests that experiencing that type of violence, even indirectly, can significantly impair a child’s cognitive functioning. Sharkey also found that the distress of the parents was much higher in those who lived near the homicide. This could mean that the heightened parental stress acted as a bridge for the negative effects of the violence. “Although the methods are conservative because they only allow for inferences about the acute impacts of violence, the results suggest that the costs of violence, even if episodic, are high,” Sharkey said.

These findings suggest that community violence exacts a large toll on its members, even those not directly involved in the violence. Understanding this has important clinical implications. Therapists working with children exposed to violence or dwelling in violent communities might want to address the caregiver and parental distress as a means for exploring the avenues that could lead to problems for the child. Policy makers should consider these findings when they try to close the educational gap between children from high income and low income areas. Rather than focusing only on the material and financial resources, they should also consider the unique emotional and cognitive resources needed by children living in violent communities as a way to increase academic and behavioral performance.

Sharkey, Patrick T., Nicole Tirado-Strayer, Andrew V. Papachristos, and Cybele C. Raver. The effect of local violence on children’s attention and impulse control. American Journal of Public Health 102.12 (2012): 2287-293. Print.

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • celeste


    January 9th, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    How can any child be anywhere concerned about their academic grades or performance when they are having to concentrate on staying safe? Any child deserves to have a learning environment that is free or fear and there are obviously far too many children living in major urban communities who neither feel safe at home or at school. We have all hoped for this blight on society to somewhat fade but it hasn’t and as a result thousands of children a year are suffering. They will never get out of the situations that they are in because they will not have the necessary background to do so.

  • cole


    January 9th, 2013 at 10:30 PM

    try talking about this to the parents of those kids and chances are that they will not really understand the importance of it all.and even if they do they will not have the means to escape such a is a sad story about all these kids continuing to live in places where they are exposed to violence and hence take impact on various aspects of their lives and continue to carry those impacts forever.

    they are disadvantaged and stay that way for the rest of their lives because they were impacted in childhood and such impacts can be very very hard to get over completely.

  • JUDE


    January 10th, 2013 at 12:00 AM

    Education would be one of the last priorities when you witness violence on a regular basis.The primary goal would be to remain safe and away from danger.Also,being exposed to violence leaves a mental scar on these children that can well come in the way of them acquiring education or other life skills.

    Violence has never done any good and it is no different when it comes to education.But think of it the other way – bring in education and violence will slowly fade away!I think that should be our goal,that should be the focus in programmes that are intended for communities most at risk.

  • Greg t

    Greg t

    January 10th, 2013 at 3:59 AM

    I know that incidents like the one recently in CT don’t happen all the time, but the things that you are talking about here in this article do happen every day somewhere in this country. Somewhere a child is at a serious disadvantage because of the poor environment that they are being forced to grow up in. Why isn’t this an argument to stop the violence and enact more gun control today?

  • Pam


    January 10th, 2013 at 8:16 AM

    This study just makes me sad. To think that there are people living close to weekly homicides is bad enough. But to think that preschoolers are living that life? It is such a shame that some children aren’t even getting a chance at a normal life. It is not their fault, so how can we help them?

  • Martin


    January 10th, 2013 at 8:20 AM

    I think this is a case of which comes first, the chicken or the egg. Are the children having difficulty focusing on work because of the violence or are children who have difficulty focusing the product of parents who had difficulty focusing meaning they have trouble finding stable income meaning they have to live in dangerous places meaning their kids who have attention problems live in dangerous places? I think there is a lot of circumstancial evidence in this one!

  • Kerstin


    January 10th, 2013 at 8:22 AM

    Increasing a child’s academic performance is his only ticket out of violent neighborhoods. If you want to stop this cycle, you’ve got to give kids all the support they need to stay in school and go to college.

  • Lotta


    January 10th, 2013 at 8:26 AM

    There is a scale we learned about in college that says that kids can’t learn until their basic needs are taken care of. I think safety was the first need that has to be met in order for learning to take place. I think this study totally highlights the need for kids to feel safe in school and at home. All children have this as an inherent right. It is not a luxury but a right. People who are making policies for our country need to wake up to this fact and throw resources in that direction. Do what studies prove work to get neighborhoods safe. I guarantee you it isn’t food stamps or welfare but programs that give people the ability to take care of themselves and their families.



    January 10th, 2013 at 11:11 AM

    Same reason why so many countries that have insurgencies have little levels of education.We need to have control over violence because it causes damage far beyond the direct consequences it causes.It shakes down the very structure of society if you ask me.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.