Children and adolescents facing a continuous security threat: Aggressive behavior and post-traumatic stress symptoms

Orit Nuttman-Shwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations

Abstract

There is extensive research evidence indicating that children and youth are the most vulnerable population for developing psychological symptoms relating to war and terror. Although studies have documented a wide range of detrimental emotional and behavioral effects of such exposure, much less is known about the effects of exposure to a continuous security threat for children and adolescents. Against this background, the current article examined the implications of continuous exposure to missile attacks among 1096 children and adolescents enrolled in public schools near the Israeli border with Gaza. Participants filled out quantitative questionnaires, which relate to the pathological consequences of continuous exposure to security threats, and to the role of the school and the community as a protective environment against disruptive behavior resulting from such exposure. The findings revealed that PTSS responses were mainly related to the security threat, whereas interpersonal aggression resulted from other types of traumatic events. Significant differences were found between aggression and posttraumatic symptoms, by age and gender. PTSS was found to be lower for older participants and higher for girls, whereas aggression was higher for boys and higher for older participants. Furthermore, the sense of belonging to the place of residence was negatively associated with PTSS as well as with aggressive behavior: the higher the participants' sense of belonging, the lower their levels of PTSS and aggressive responses. In contrast, the sense of belonging to the school was negatively associated only with aggressive behavior: the higher the participants' sense of belonging to the school, the lower their aggressive responses. The findings are discussed in the light of trauma theories and in light of the results of previous research. The study contributed to knowledge about the differential consequences of exposure to a security threat, and highlighted the importance of differential interventions with children who show post-traumatic symptoms versus those who show aggressive behavior. Accordingly, the security situation should not overshadow social issues that need to be addressed, such as family violence and aggression among school children.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-39
Number of pages11
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Volume69
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Aggressive behavior
  • Continuous threat
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Terror
  • War

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