Violence Affects
Adolescents Differently
NEW YORK - Adolescents who are exposed to high levels of violence in their neighborhoods are likely to engage in antisocial behavior and to suffer from anxiety, depression and psychosomatic illness, according to a study by researchers at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and the University of California, Irvine.
In two separate studies of more than 2,600 subjects each, Dr. Mary Schwab-Stone, of the Yale Child Study Center, and colleagues surveyed 6th, 8th, and 10th-grade students in an urban school system. A subgroup of some 1,100 students were included in both studies which were conducted in 1994 and 1996. Their report is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
"More than one third of the adolescents (36% in both 1994 and 1996) had experienced at least one type of violent act," the researchers report. In each year, 18% reported that a gang or an individual had chased them, and 18% reported they had been threatened with physical harm. Between 5% and 10% reported that they had been attacked or stabbed with a knife, been shot or shot at, beaten or mugged.
At least half reported seeing someone else being chased by a gang or individual, beaten or mugged, or wounded seriously. In 1994, 46% reported having seen someone shot or shot at.
In 1996, that number decreased to 39%. More than one-quarter reported having seen someone attacked or stabbed, the investigators found.
Schwab-Stone and associates found that the resulting behavior and psychological symptoms differed according to gender, grade level, and ethnicity. Adolescents who were female, younger, and white were less likely to act out in antisocial ways than their older, male, and ethnic minority counterparts.
Younger adolescents, those in 6th grade, females, and Latinos appeared to suffer greater psychological stress than did male African-American and white counterparts.
The researchers suggest that younger adolescents are at higher risk of developing psychiatric symptoms after exposure to violence because they have a poorer understanding of social relationships and less effective strategies for coping with stress. They may also be suffering from changes brought on by puberty as well as difficulties related to moving from an elementary school setting to a middle school.
Schwab-Stone and colleagues believe their findings have both public policy implications and import for those who work with youth.
"Prevention and early intervention efforts for children growing up in cities should include efforts to facilitate the capacity of exposed youths to cope with feelings and fears aroused by exposure to violence in their neighborhoods," the authors write.
They add that school-based mental health screening efforts and positive health promotion programs should take into account "the particular vulnerability of children in the early middle school years."