The Influence of the War in Iraq on American Youth's Fears: Implications for Professional School Counselors

By Burnham, Joy J.; Hooper, Lisa M. | Professional School Counseling, August 2008 | Go to article overview

The Influence of the War in Iraq on American Youth's Fears: Implications for Professional School Counselors


Burnham, Joy J., Hooper, Lisa M., Professional School Counseling


Before and after the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, the fears of youth in grades 2-12 were examined using the American Fear Survey Schedule for Children and Adolescents (Burnham, 2005). In a pre-invasion and post-invasion comparison, results revealed significant age and gender differences between pre- and post-invasion samples. In addition, the post-invasion sample reported more war-related fears. Implications are discussed and potential resources for professional school counselors are presented.

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Children and adolescents have long been influenced by natural and human-made disasters and traumas (Gold, 2001; Hamblen, 2002; Hebert, 2007; Newman, 1976; Pine & Cohen, 2002; Squires, 2002). Recent traumas that have been shown to influence children and adolescents include the 9/11 terrorist attacks (Gil-Rivas, Silver, Holman, McIntosh, & Poulin, 2007), Hurricane Katrina (Hebert, 2007), the Columbine school shootings (Windham, Hudson, & Hooper, 2005), and the Virginia Tech shootings (Fredland, 2008). In addition to these events, American youth have been exposed to the invasion of, and war in, Iraq since 2003. Even though American youth are geographically distant from the Iraq war, many of them have observed the deployment of U.S. troops and the media coverage of the past 5 years (Atwood & Donnelly, 2002; Stomfay-Stitz & Wheeler, 2004). Additionally, some youth have had direct exposure to the war through their own family members' involvement in the war (Lamberg, 2004).

Because of the ongoing war and its possible short- and long-term deleterious effects on American youth, an exploratory study examined the extent to which specific war-related fears among children and adolescents may have changed following the advent of the war in Iraq. For the purposes of this study, the term children includes ages 7-10, while the term adolescents includes ages 11-17. The term youth includes both children and adolescents.

YOUTH'S FEARS AND REACTIONS TO TRAUMA

Like adults, youth can experience significant stress or trauma during or after an adverse event or in an adverse environment (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1995). However, children are often at far greater risk for negative outcomes because they have not yet fully developed cognitively and emotionally (Gold, 2001). Children are expected to experience fears as a part of normal development (Gullone, 1996; Morris & Kratochwill, 1985). Irrespective of the precipitating event or environment, fears among youth usually remain "mild, specific, and transitory," although the fears of children may "vary in intensity and duration" (Ollendick, 1979, p. 127). After exposure to trauma, fears can move from normal to abnormal or clinical in nature. Clinical fears are those fears that are atypical based on the age at which they are experienced and may persist over a longer period of time than normal fears (Gullone). Numerous studies have shown that after a traumatic or disaster-related event unrelated to war, specific fears unique to the event are elevated (Burnham, 2007; Vogel & Vernberg, 1993). However, less is known about children's unique fears about and reactions to war (Atwood & Donnelly, 2002). The present study addresses this gap.

IMPACT OF WAR AND YOUTH

War research has preliminarily shown that cognitive maturity and developmental growth influence how a child or adolescent responds to war (Atwood & Donnelly, 2002). From a developmental perspective, older children are more likely to feel equipped emotionally and cognitively to handle adverse events and crises than their younger counterparts (Dyregrov, Gjestad, & Raundalen, 2002; Ronen, Rahav, & Rosenbaum, 2003; Vogel & Vernberg, 1993). For example, younger children traditionally think concretely (Piaget, 1952) and therefore may struggle to understand and make meaning of a war (Ronen et al., 2003). Reports have shown that children ages 7-11 tend to be prone to display fear, confusion, psychosomatic symptoms, problems at school, and anxiety in the aftermath of war (Joshi & O'Donnell, 2003). …

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