The Impact of Parental Trauma Exposure on Community Violence Exposed Adolescents

By Self-Brown, Shannon; LeBlanc, Monique M. et al. | Violence and Victims, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Parental Trauma Exposure on Community Violence Exposed Adolescents


Self-Brown, Shannon, LeBlanc, Monique M., David, Kimberly, Shepard, Desti, Ryan, Kerry, Hodges, Amanda, Kelley, Mary Lou, Violence and Victims


Previous research has documented an association between adolescent community violence (CV) exposure and poor psychological functioning. The purpose of this study was to delineate the relations of adolescent CV, parent trauma exposure (PTE), and adolescent internalizing and externalizing symptomatology while controlling for adolescent-reported home violence and parental self-reported posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Participants consisted of 101 pairs of junior high school and high school students and their parents or caretakers. Adolescents completed measures to assess their history of violence exposure in the community and home setting and current internalizing symptoms. Parents or caretakers completed a demographic questionnaire, a measure assessing their trauma exposure and related symptomatology, and a measure of child externalizing symptoms. Hierarchical regression analyses were conducted; results indicated that after controlling for demographic variables, home violence exposure, and parental PTSD symptoms, PTE emerged as a moderator variable in the relationship between CV and adolescent-rated internalizing symptoms but not in the association between adolescent CV and externalizing symptoms.

Keywords: community violence exposure; parental trauma; adolescent internalizing symptoms; adolescent externalizing symptoms; moderator

Community violence (CV) is a major public health problem impacting the lives of youth living in the United States (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 2001). Adolescents are exposed to CV through personal victimization, witnessing violent acts, and learning about violence in the community (Richters & Martinez, 1993). Research over the past two decades has demonstrated that a considerable number of children and adolescents are exposed to CV (Kilpatrick, Saunders, & Smith, 2003). Recently, researchers using the National Survey of Adolescents found that 37.8% of a national sample of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 reported witnessing violence in their communities (Zinzow, Ruggiero, Hanson, et al., 2009). African American adolescents and youth who reside in urban areas are disproportionately at risk for witnessing or being victims of CV (Crouch, Hanson, Saunders, Kilpatrick, & Resnick, 2000). For instance, when examining CV exposure with a sample of urban, African American, and Latino youth, Gorman-Smith, Henry, and Tolan (2004) found that approximately half had witnessed someone being beaten up and as many as one in five had witnessed someone being shot or killed.

The deleterious effects of CV have been well documented (e.g., Kliewer et al., 2004; Margolin & Gordis, 2004; Self-Brown et al., 2006). In a recent meta-analysis examining the impact of CV on urban adolescents, McDonald and Richmond (2008) concluded that there is an association among CV exposure and symptoms of depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and aggression, with posttraumatic stress and aggression showing the strongest effects after controlling for the other mental health variables and confounders. Fowler, Tompsett, Braciszewski, Jacques-Tiura, and Baltes (2009) recently conducted a meta-analysis examining the mental health effects of CV on children and adolescents. Results indicated similar associations between CV and youth psychological and behavioral health, with the strongest relationship emerging between CV and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and externalizing problems, and a smaller effect indicated for internalizing symptoms other than PTSD.

Because not all adolescents who are exposed to violence exhibit deleterious outcomes, it is imperative to investigate moderators for this relation. Ecological-transactional theory (Cicchetti & Lynch, 1993) has guided much of the research to date on risk and protective factors of CV exposure because it provides a framework for understanding how the ecologies of culture, community, family, and the individual child can interact and shape development.

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