The Crippling Effects of Community Violence on Children
Historically, community violence, including all manner of gang activity, has been most prevalent in over-crowded, urban neighborhoods with low socioeconomic demographics, but the statistics are quickly broadening to include middle-class, suburban areas, as well. Research tells us that upon entering high school, many urban students in high-risk areas have already either witnessed violence first-hand in their communities, or they have been victimized by it.
When the Sense of Danger Replaces Security
Community violence causes children to develop a warped perspective of the world around them. Children who grow up in crime-riddled neighborhoods that are infected with gang violence of every sort are robbed of the natural adolescent tendencies to explore their surroundings safely. Instead of actively seeking to discover and learn about their surroundings, young people end up building a psychological defense to shield themselves from an environment that can, quite appropriately, be regarded as a war zone.
Children who grow up in crime-riddled neighborhoods that are infected with gang violence of every sort are robbed of the natural adolescent tendencies to explore their surroundings safely.
Community Violence Hinders Childhood Development
A child’s normal development is the process of becoming fully integrated as a human being. Nature unites with nurture to cultivate a complete being that is equipped to face the everyday challenges of life. A supportive community can help a child achieve balance as they navigate their roles as friend, student, family member, neighbor, and ultimately, responsible citizen. A good community environment is important in forming the basis for positive interaction, proficiency in communication, and an understanding of how humans relate to one another. A child exposed to chronic community violence, however, is compromised in many areas:
* Developing and experiencing trust
* Forming appropriate and meaningful attachments
* Developing a positive self-image
* Cultivating autonomy and independence
* Fostering a healthy sense of self-confidence
Community Violence and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
More and more, our communities are becoming marked by disturbing events that are outside the parameters of usual human experience. These events – shootings, stabbings, beatings, etc – are leaving an ugly stain on society in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Although a child’s response to trauma can differ somewhat depending on such factors as age and availability of support systems, the consistent features of PTSD remain the same: generalized anxiety, persistent fear, and damaged self-esteem. A large percentage of young people that are exposed to chronic doses of violence may exhibit many other symptoms, as well.
* Feelings of detachment
* An ongoing, heightened state of arousal leading to extreme nervousness
* Difficulty concentrating
* Outbursts of anger
Contrary to popular belief, children can suffer from PTSD from a very young age. These children typically have problems developing basic motor skills; often, toilet training is severely delayed; and, they may have abnormal difficulties with speech development. Community violence jeopardizes the fundamental components that children need to get a good start in life. The essence of childhood should allow a child the freedom to live, play and learn without having to wrestle with the fear of being physically harmed. In addition, the increasing prevalence of crippling community violence is leaving our young people to grapple with the affects of life-altering psychological disorders that severely limit their potential for happiness and success.
Children in danger: Coping with the consequences of community violence. By James Garbarino, Nancy Dubrow, Kathleen Kostelny, and Carole Pardo. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass