Effects of terrorism on our kids

Boy watching TV

We hear a lot about the reality of terrorism around the world, including the threat that exists right here in America. But, we never seem to hear about the effect terrorism has on our developing children.

  • How safe or scared do they really feel?
  • What should we be doing to help them deal with the treats of terrorism in their everyday lives?
  • Is it best to talk openly with our kids about the real threats in the world?

Unfortunately, these questions are a reality in today’s world and should be addressed by parents. To ignore the reality of terrorism and the effects it is having on our children is to ignore a substantial factor in their wellbeing and support.

Children who are victims or witness acts of terrorism seem to universally feel a sense of helplessness in the face of intolerable danger. Most of these children will suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which affects cognition, emotions, interpersonal relations, and personality development. Kids who develop PTSD experience an enduring sense of pessimism with depression and suicidal thoughts, insomnia, nightmares, hyper vigilance, and severe agitation. If left untreated, the effect of these symptoms can be life long.

But what effect can simply seeing or hearing about terroristic acts of violence have on our kids, even if they haven’t actually been victimized or witnessed such acts themselves? Well, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued the following warning following the recent attacks in Paris,

As pediatricians, we know that violence can have lasting effects on children, even if they are only learning about it through the media. The AAP urges everyone to take care with the images that children see and hear about.
American Academy of Pediatrics

Of course, no parent can completely shield their children from hearing about these horrific acts, especially when they are happening a such frequent intervals.  Because children don’t clearly understand the context of terror, it is vital that parents talk to their children about the issue.

When an incident occurs, parents should talk with their children and provide a general description of what happened. Young children are strongly influenced by the way their parents react to these events. As a parent, be aware that your children are looking to you for a explanation of what happened and don’t be afraid to engage them in the way they understand the event and what it means in their world.

While offering support and empathy to their children, parents should encourage their kids to express their opinions and to put their feelings into words. Parents should not be afraid to allow their children to fully express their emotions about terrorism and reassure them that it’s alright to have these emotions. If a child expresses feelings of confusion, fear, or even anger, support and reassurance from their parents can go a long way in helping them to understand the events in the proper context and feel as safe as possible. Most of the time, with proper support from their parents, children who only hear about a terrorist attack, will place the attack in the proper context and soon move beyond it’s initial effects.

Occasionally, however, some children find it hard to put a terrorist attack in the proper context and move beyond the effects it has had on them.  In those situations, there are some behavioral warning signs that a parent should look for in their children.  These behaviors include,

  • sadness
  • feeling unsafe
  • not wanting to leave their parents
  • becoming socially isolated.

If parents see these behavioral changes in their children following a terrorist attack, they should talk to their children, encouraging them to share their feelings and reassuring them concerning their safety.  If the behavioral changes persist, parents should contact their pediatrician or local mental health professional for assistance.

No matter what, stay safe and don’t lose sight of the fact that as adults we aren’t the only ones effected by terrorist attacks.

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