For all of us who live in or near Boston, the Marathon bombings and the events of the days afterward are etched sharply and painfully clear forever in our minds. None of us will ever forget those days and the sheer terror of them. The bombing itself was horrible beyond any words, but it didn't let up. The manhunt and the shelter-in-place order touched everyone somehow.
Including our kids.
In a study just released in the journal Pediatrics, researchers from Boston University surveyed Boston-area parents about the experiences of their children during the attack week, as well as about their behavior and how the children did in the months afterward.
They found that 11 percent of youth who were at the Boston Marathon had post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Kids who saw a dead body were the most affected. The manhunt affected kids just as much, especially if they heard manhunt-related gunshots or explosions, knew the officer who was killed, had an officer enter their home, or saw manhunt-related blood.
But it wasn't just being up close and personal that led to psychological problems. Just watching TV coverage of the attacks and manhunts could do it, too. Most parents in the study didn't limit how much their children watched the TV coverage, which I totally get. It wasn't just a morbid curiosity thing; we kept it on because we didn't want to miss any information we might need to keep us and our families safe. That week, we didn't know if it was safe to walk on the streets, take public transportation, or send our kids to school.
For so many families around the world, there's nothing about this study that is even vaguely surprising. So many families around the world know exactly what exposure to violence, and feeling unsafe, does to them and their children--because they live it every day.
We've been sheltered for so long--but now, increasingly, we are not. Bombings and shootings are becoming increasingly common--and when you add how quickly and graphically information spreads through the media, well, it's time to face the very real fact that we live in a violent world--and our children are in danger both physically and emotionally.
What do we do? On a smaller scale, we can do things like turn off the TV and otherwise limit our children's exposure to media coverage of events like the Marathon bombings. Also, the researchers found that kids with strong social connections fared better; those connections help protect kids emotionally, and we should encourage them whenever we can.
But there's a bigger picture, too, that we can't ignore. Is our only choice to simply accept that we live in a violent world? Maybe...but maybe not. Maybe we actually could do something to make the world a less violent place--by understanding the roots of violence, and working to make real change. Income and education inequality, poverty and all its consequences, inadequate mental health services, the easy availability of weapons, the rush to settle things violently rather than diplomatically or in other ways...these are just a few things worth looking at.
Our children need us to.