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Mitigating the Effects of Gun Violence on Children and Youth

NCJ Number
Future of Children Volume: 12 Issue: 2 Dated: Summer/Fall 2002 Pages: 73-85
James Garbarino Ph.D.; Catherine P. Bradshaw M.Ed.; Joseph A. Vorrasi Ph.D.
Date Published
13 pages
This document describes research regarding the psychological effects of gun violence on children and youth.
Children exposed to gun violence may experience negative short- and long-term psychological effects, including anger, withdrawal, posttraumatic stress, and desensitization to violence. All of these outcomes can feed into a continuing cycle of violence. Research shows that exposure to violence can cause intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event and sleep disturbances. Young victims commonly experience difficulty concentrating in the classroom, declines in academic performance, and lower educational and career aspirations. Other outcomes include increased delinquency, risky sexual behaviors, and substance abuse. Certain children, such as children injured in gun violence, those that witness violent acts, those exposed to high levels of violence in their communities or schools, and those exposed to violent media, may be at higher risk for negative outcomes. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children is typically associated with hypervigilance (an overly alert state), an exaggerated startle response, anxiety, and recurring thoughts and dreams associated with the traumatic event. Parents, school administrators, and mental health workers can play key roles in protecting children from gun violence and helping them overcome the effects of gun-related trauma. There are a number of strategies that adults can adopt to help children cope with gun violence. These include increasing parental monitoring of the child, environment, and the media, targeting services to youth at risk of violent activity, and developing therapeutic interventions to help traumatized young people. An essential aspect of school violence prevention is performing an effective and in-depth assessment of threats of violence. Trauma-focused group interventions have successfully treated violence-exposed and victimized children and adolescents, but these programs are rare. The greatest challenge in providing services for traumatized youth is identifying who has been exposed to violence. Mental health services for exposed and victimized youth need to be both systematic and sustained. 56 endnotes