Study shows 9/11 Carries an Impact on Young Children

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Two new studies appeared in a special section on children and disaster in the July/August 2010 issue of the journal Child Development stating the effects of the 911 terror attack had an impact on young children.

In the first study, researchers discovered higher rates behavior problems among preschool children who were directly exposed to 9/11 in Lower Manhattan. They investigated more than 100 mothers and their preschool children who were directly exposed to the World Trade Center attacks.

Researchers asked each mother what was more important in determining terrorism-related problems in children—direct exposure to the attacks or indirect exposure to their mothers’ attack-related psychological problems?

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As a follow up, they asked whether young children exposed to the attacks whose mothers suffered from PTSD and depression were more likely to have serious behavior problems than similar children of moms with neither PTSD nor depression, or with only depression.

Researchers discovered that mothers’ disaster-related psychological problems had a stronger impact on preschool children than children’s direct exposure. They also found that the terror attack exposed young children of moms with PTSD and depression, were more likely to have clinically significant aggression, anxiety, depression, and sleep problems.

The mothers’ psychological wellbeing appeared to affect how well they helped their young children cope with exposure to disaster, although additional research is needed to shed light on this relationship.

In the second study, children and their mothers had high levels of PTSD and depression. Researchers said that directness of exposure played a small but significant role in explaining the occurrence of PTSD and depression in adolescents and their mothers. It found that it was only direct exposure such as seeing the planes hit the towers that was associated with elevated rates of PTSD and depression.

The two studies really suggest that people need to respond o children's post-trauma needs and that it will require an understanding of how the children were exposed and of the impact of trauma-related changes in parent-child relationships.

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