Effects of Gun Violence on Children and Youth

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Exposure to gun violence can traumatize children and youth not just physically, but emotionally as well. Studies have documented that young people exposed to gun violence experience lasting emotional scars. Some children may develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can affect brain development. The psychological trauma of gun violence may lead some children to arm themselves "for protection," or desensitize them so that they feel less hesitation about engaging in violent acts. Psychological Impacts Associated with Exposure to Gun Violence Young people who are exposed to gun violence may experience negative psychological impacts in both the short and long term. For example, a recent study of rural third- through eighth-graders indicated that children exposed to gun violence reported significantly higher levels of anger, withdrawal, and posttraumatic stress.5 The problem is exacerbated when youth get caught in a cycle of violence: Those who witnessed at least one incidence of gun violence reported significantly greater exposure to other types of violence, higher levels of aggression, and less parental monitoring than their peers.5 Exposure to gun violence also can desensitize youth to the effects of violence and increase the likelihood that they will use violence as a means of resolving problems or expressing emotions. Sleep Distortion and Withdrawal Research shows that exposure to violence can cause intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event and sleep disturbances.6 Therefore, it is not surprising that children and youth exposed to gun violence commonly experience difficulty concentrating in the classroom, declines in academic performance, and lower educational and career aspirations.7,8 Other outcomes associated with exposure to violent trauma include increased delinquency, risky sexual behaviors, and substance abuse.7,8 Exposure to gun
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