Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Children's Fears: A Pre-9/11 and Post-9/11 Comparison Using the American Fear Survey Schedule for Children

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Children's Fears: A Pre-9/11 and Post-9/11 Comparison Using the American Fear Survey Schedule for Children

Article excerpt

Prior to the 1950s, very little research existed about children's reactions to disasters (Vogel & Vernberg, 1993). Early research in the 1950s "concluded that children's responses [were] relatively mild and transient" (Vogel & Vernberg, 1993, p. 465). By the 1970s and 1980s, the belief was that, in at least some cases, children had "more severe and longer lasting" (Vogel & Vernberg, 1993, p. 465) symptoms resulting from exposure to disasters. The introduction of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a diagnostic category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 1980) prompted a focus on children's symptoms that appear after the occurrence of disasters. Improvements were also made in data collection in the aftermath of a tragedy. For example, a change from investigating children's concerns through parental interviews to working directly with children improved discernment of children's reactions to tragedy (Vogel & Vernberg, 1993).

On January 18, 1986, millions of school-age children watched as the Challenger space shuttle exploded during live television coverage of its launch. This tragedy offered insight into how normal children cope with levels of exposure to a disaster and whether PTSD symptoms occur as a result of such exposure. After studying children in the aftermath of the Challenger explosion, Terr et al. (1999) found that children who watched the event live at Cape Canaveral or knew the teacher, Chrism McAuliffe, were deeply affected by the incident. In the early weeks after the disaster, these children exhibited such symptoms as "dreams, posttraumatic play (writing, drawing, pretending), trauma-specific fears (death and dying, taking risks, explosions, fires, space, airplanes), trauma-related approaches to space careers, and diminished expectations for the future" (Terr et al., 1999, p. 1542). Remnants of the psychological effects of the event were observable 1 year later, with the children demonstrating "posttraumatic play, new approaches to careers, and diminished expectations for the future" (Terr et al., 1999, p. 1542).

Terr et al. (1999) also observed a phenomenon identified as distant trauma. The researchers defined this condition as "the reaction (memory, thinking, symptoms) to a disastrous event, experienced at the time of the event" even though the traumatized children are "from a remote and realistically safe distance" (Terr et al., 1999, p. 1542). This incident was observed among children who had watched the Challenger explosion on television, giving credence to the conclusion that disasters can have traumatic and far-reaching effects on children even though they are not actually present at the event.

On April 19, 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed. At the time, this "was the largest disaster of the century in this country ... (and) exposed our vulnerability to terrorism and aroused intense fear of domestic threat" (Pfefferbaum et al., 1999, p. 1069). Following this disaster, Pfefferbaum et al. assessed more than 3,000 Oklahoma City area students for posttraumatic symptoms. These researchers found significant differences in gender, with girls having higher symptom levels than boys. As expected, students with close relatives who were injured or killed had higher posttraumatic stress levels.

The Pferrerbaum et al. (1999) results reinforced the association between distant trauma and PTSD. Pffefferbaum et al. affirmed that watching television coverage of a traumatic event played a role in sustaining PTSD symptoms for children who did not have a close relative injured or killed. This finding echoed Terr et al.'s (1999) distant trauma research regarding television coverage after tragedies. More recent studies have also supported the view that children can develop PTSD symptoms after disasters (DeVoe, Bannon, & Klein, 2006; Duarte et al., 2006; Duggal, Berezkin, & John, 2002; Pine & Cohen, 2002; Squires, 2002; Stuber et al. …

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