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