Role of Direct and Indirect Violence Exposure on Externalizing Behavior in Children

J Urban Health. 2016 Jun;93(3):479-92. doi: 10.1007/s11524-016-0052-y.


The objective of this study was to examine the association between externalizing behaviors and indirect violence exposure, assessed both within the household and at the community level, as well as the interaction effect of indirect and direct violence exposure. A sample of parents of children ages 4-15 who have not been referred or enrolled in child welfare (n = 82) were recruited from the greater New Orleans community. Externalizing behavior was assessed with the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). The child's indirect exposure to violence included witnessing community violence, witnessing physical assault, and witnessing fighting or domestic violence at home. Direct exposure to violence included the child experiencing physical aggression from a caregiver. All assessments were based on caregiver reports. To decrease potential for confounding, children were matched for analysis based on age, Hurricane Katrina exposure, and their propensity to be exposed to high indirect violence. Cumulative indirect exposure to violence was significantly positively correlated with CBCL scores. After controlling for key covariates, CBCL externalizing T score increased significantly by approximately 1.25 points for each level increase in indirect violence exposure (β = 1.25, SE = 0.57, p = 0.027). There also was a significant interaction between indirect and direct exposure to violence in the association with CBCL score (β = -0.08, SE = 0.03, p = 0.002). These findings extend previous research by demonstrating that exposure to both direct and cross-contextual indirect violence influences externalizing behaviors in children. Additionally, the findings suggest that community and household social environments are both important targets for interventions designed to decrease externalizing behaviors and improve long-term outcomes for youth at risk of exposure to violence.

Keywords: Child externalizing behaviors; Child physical aggression; Childhood exposure to violence; Community violence; Cumulative exposure to violence; Direct exposure to violence; Household violence; Indirect exposure to violence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Behavior*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Exposure to Violence / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • New Orleans
  • Qualitative Research