Gun Violence Exposure and Posttraumatic Symptoms Among Children and Youth

J Trauma Stress. 2019 Dec;32(6):881-889. doi: 10.1002/jts.22466. Epub 2019 Dec 12.

Abstract

Although statistics on youth homicide and injury from gun violence are available, little research has focused on how gun violence overlaps with other victimizations or on the psychological impact of gun violence on children. Pilot survey data were collected on the experiences of 630 U.S. children (age range: 2-17 years) from Boston, Philadelphia, and rural areas of eastern Tennessee. Youth aged 10-17 years completed a self-report survey on a wide range of gun violence exposures, and parents of younger children (aged 2-9 years) completed the survey as a proxy for that child. Direct gun violence exposure, witnessing gun violence, and hearing gunshots were all significantly associated with other forms of victimization, rs = .10-.38, p < .001. The findings suggest that youth who experience direct gun violence are often exposed to multiple violent contexts. For older youth (ages 10-17 years) polyvictimization was most strongly associated with posttraumatic symptoms, β = .35, p < .001, although witnessing gun violence still uniquely predicted a higher level of symptoms, β = .18, p < .01. For younger children (ages 2-9 years), hearing and witnessing gun violence were both related to posttraumatic symptoms, β = .15, p < .01 for both, even after controlling for polyvictimization. Mental health professionals and trauma-informed services should be mindful that the traumatic impact of gun violence for children may not necessarily be attached to direct victimization experiences but may also result from simply seeing or hearing it in their neighborhoods.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Continental Population Groups
  • Exposure to Violence / psychology
  • Exposure to Violence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Gun Violence / psychology*
  • Gun Violence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Race Factors
  • Rural Population
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Urban Population