The complexity of trauma response: a 4-year follow-up of adolescent Cambodian refugees

Child Abuse Negl. 2003 Nov;27(11):1277-90. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2003.07.001.


Objective: The objective of this study was to document the psychosocial adjustment of young refugees during their adolescence and its association with the war-related trauma experienced by their family before migration.

Method: Data were collected on 57 young Khmer resettled in Montreal and followed from early to late adolescence. The associations between premigratory exposure to political violence and postmigratory mental health and social adjustment were estimated for early, mid-, and late adolescence.

Results: The associations between premigratory exposure to political violence and postmigratory psychosocial adjustment fluctuated over the adolescence period. Overall, the adolescents whose families were more highly exposed to political violence tended to report a more positive social adjustment and less mental health symptoms than those less exposed.

Conclusion: The high expectations of Cambodian parents towards their children and the preservation of traditional values despite the Khmer rouge attempts to eradicate them might contribute to explain the paradoxical association between the families' exposure to political violence and the adolescents' psychosocial adjustment in the host country. Although children and adult refugees seen in clinical setting are reminders of the negative effects of adversity, resilience should be more systematically explored in community samples to further our understanding of the long-term effects of trauma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Cambodia / ethnology
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Refugees / psychology*
  • Refugees / statistics & numerical data
  • Self Concept
  • Social Adjustment
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Violence / psychology*
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data
  • Warfare