Reports of Terror Traumatize Some Students

Distressed young woman holds her head in her handsPosttraumatic stress is a collection of symptoms—intrusive memories or flashbacks, hypervigilance, depression, anxiety, and avoidance—that can result from traumas such as rape, military combat, and natural disasters. According to a new study, though, people who have directly experienced a traumatic event aren’t the only ones vulnerable to posttraumatic stress. In this case, adolescents who had a history of trauma showed new symptoms of posttraumatic stress in response to terror attacks.

Evaluating Student Responses to Terrorist Attacks

On July 22, 2011, a gunman shot and killed 69 Norwegian students at a summer camp. A car bomb that went off the same day killed an additional eight people. Researchers wanted to evaluate what effect reports of this event might have on youth who did not have a personal connection to the event. They examined data from a mental health survey that looked at 10,000 high school students.

Researchers found that students who had a history of childhood trauma or who had witnessed violence were more likely to develop posttraumatic stress related to the July 22 attacks, even when their only connection to the terrorist attack was through media reports. Overall, students with a prior history of trauma had a 50% greater risk of developing posttraumatic stress in response to media coverage of the terrorist attacks.

Preventing Stress in Children

Mental health experts have long known that early trauma increases children’s vulnerability to a host of physical and mental health challenges. This new research shows that early trauma also increases the likelihood of experiencing future events as traumatic. The study’s authors emphasize the importance of preventing violence in early childhood.

Parents who are concerned about the effects of traumatic news stories should note that not all children exposed to traumatic news stories develop posttraumatic stress. Indeed, most don’t. Researcher are increasingly emphasizing the concept of resilience as one way to protect children from traumatic events, since resilient children are less likely to develop posttraumatic stress.

The American Psychological Association suggests several steps parents can take to boost resilience in children, including:

  • Teaching your child self-care skills. Every child needs to learn how to calm themselves, care for their bodies, and protect their minds.
  • Nurturing a positive self-image and encouraging self-reliance.
  • Helping your child put a hopeful spin on negative events. Looking at the long-term picture can be particularly helpful.
  • Sticking to a reliable routine.
  • Helping your child to master empathy.
  • Encouraging your child to develop strong relationships with other people.


  1. Uni Research. (2014, June 30). Early traumas and young people’s reactions to terror. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from
  2. Norway Terror Attacks Fast Facts. (2013, September 26). CNN. Retrieved from
  3. Resilience Guide for Parents and Teachers. (n.d.). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from

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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.

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  • Arnie


    July 10th, 2014 at 11:21 AM

    We live in the vicinity of where a school shooting happened so anytime that my kids hear about something else like this happening they are terrified that their school will be next. I want to shield them from that terror but then again I want them to know about the things that can happen too. How do you draw that line where you shield them from the bad but also let them know that it is out there?

  • Zoe


    July 10th, 2014 at 4:57 PM

    This could come froma number of things but my first instinct is to believe that perhaps they feel this a little more deeply because they have known pain and hurt in their own lives and therefor they have a pretty good idea of the suffering that is being felt by others.
    I also believe that for many this could bring back long repressed memories, pain that they thought that they had worked through but now it has comes back to them because something in this new situation may remind them of something that they have felt or experienced before.
    For many people tragedies like this will always hurt them in a profound way simply because of the terrible things in their own lives that they have experienced in the past.

  • bunny


    July 11th, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    If we haven’t dealt with our own terrors then there is no way that we will ever know how to process that of others.
    It may be something that we will choose to ignore or it could begin to consume us and bring us right back to our darkest period in life.
    Neither is healthy for us, and much would be resolved if we allowed ourselves to confront the pain, find out what causes and triggers it, discover our underlying fears, and get rid of it once and for.
    This will then allow you to empathize with others but not be sucked into it yourself.

  • Ed


    July 14th, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    It seems odd to develop post traumatic stress after events that happen to other people.

    I can see how it could resurrect memories of things that you have felt yourself over the years, but I would not have thought that something that happens to smoeone else and is completely removed from you could trigger such visceral feelings in you.

  • Tyner S.

    Tyner S.

    July 22nd, 2014 at 4:39 PM

    Just think about if you have been the victim of something horrific in your life and then you have to hear about a similar situation or event. Don’t you think that you too would be haunted by those same memories? There are those who have an easier time than others working through these tragedies but I don’t think that there is anyone who would necessarily be immune to feeling at least a little scared or uncomfortable when they witness an event such as this all over again. Even when it may not touch you personally you can still relate to what others could be going through and that could bering back that flood of emotions that you may not have been able to anticipate and may even have a hard time dealing with all over again.

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