GRADUATE RESEARCH Study Examines 9/11, Effects on Children By Tom Kenny Hoya Staff Writer

The findings of a recent study by the Georgetown University Psychology Department suggest that elementary school children feel an increased sense of insecurity since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. This insecurity, a symptom of post-traumatic stress syndrome, could be linked to extensive viewing of television news reports in the days after the attacks. Psychology Department Chair Deborah Phillips organized and conducted the study along with Georgetown Public Policy Institute students Shantay Prince (GRD GM) and Laura Schiebelhut (GRD GM).

“I think like many people in the aftermath of the attacks, I just felt the need to do something constructive,” Phillips said.

The study’s focus on children separates it from many others that are being conducted related to the terrorist attacks. Phillips and her researchers surveyed 47 children in fourth through sixth grade from two public schools in Northwest Washington, D.C. They also surveyed 176 parents of children in kindergarten through sixth grade and 47 matched parent-child pairs.

“What struck me from hearing by word of mouth was that none of the surveys about the attacks were focusing on children,” Phillips said.

The study focused on three central issues: how accurately parents perceive their children’s reactions to the attacks, the relation between parent-child communication about the attacks and children’s individual emotional behavior and how children’s reactions to the attacks were affected by the child’s age and gender, their parents’ level of stress and the extent of their exposure to news broadcasts.

In the study, 85 percent of children indicated that their basic sense of security and safety were shaken by the attacks. Also, extensive viewing of TV news is clearly associated with more problematic post-disaster reactions by elementary school children.

Phillips said she felt that since schools were closed after the attacks and for the next day or two afterward, children likely were exposed to long hours of distressing news coverage. A study conducted by the Rand Corporation reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that parents estimated their children watched an average of three hours of television after Sept. 11. Phillips said she did not quantify how many hours of television viewing equaled an extensive amount, but said it would probably constitute at least five to six hours.

Phillips said she was somewhat surprised at the high levels of post-traumatic stress found in young children after the terrorist attacks.

“As far as I know, it was children not directly associated with the attacks,” Phillips said. “No one lost a family member, so I was surprised to find such high levels of stress. I expected maybe half, not 85 percent.”

Another important aspect of the study found that many elementary school students took a variety of proactive steps after the attacks. Almost half volunteered time or donated materials to relief efforts. The study says that this statistic suggests possible constructive outlets that school personnel and others can provide to children to respond better to the attacks.

“The number of children being proactive and going to candlelight vigils and such, I think is a wonderful tribute to this generation,” Phillips said.

Overall, Phillips said she feels the study shows that parents need to pay closer attention to their children’s behavioral reactions. Also, she said parents should pay closer attention to their children’s prolonged exposure to stressful and traumatic television news.

In the long run, Phillips said that the possibility for continued stress and insecurity is still there and is toying with the possibility of doing another study down the road.

“Children, in Washington, D.C., in particular, are keenly aware that the threat is still there.”

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