One of the most devastating, long-lasting consequences of violence is its effect on childhood development. Children can be exposed to violence in many forms, including gang violence, school violence such as bullying, physical or emotional abuse, and crime. The effects of violence vary by child and specific characteristics, such as age, family involvement or the child's level of resilience, says Joy D. Osofsky, professor of pediatrics, public health and psychiatry, in an article for the journal "The Future of Children."
Children are resilient and often bounce back from the most difficult experiences. But when their capacity to deal with the stress of violence is overwhelmed, even the most resilient child will experience the effects of trauma. Increased academic difficulties might be one such effect of exposure to violence in any form. It is also a significant effect of childhood traumatic stress, according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Childhood traumatic stress is a psychological response that a child might develop after witnessing a violent, threatening event. In addition to learning difficulties, children suffering from childhood traumatic stress might also experience other difficulties that can affect academic performance, such as having trouble paying attention in class.
Children who witness or are victims of violence might also have a higher risk of developing mental health problems such as anxiety or depression, according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Any real or perceived threat to their safety can cause children to develop a stress response that lasts long after the actual event or stressor has subsided. Such children might experience increased emotional upset or irritability. They might also exhibit other types of emotional changes, such as crying more frequently or becoming angry or explosive more often.
Another pernicious effect of violence on childhood development is its effect on a child's health. Children exposed to violence at any developmental stage might be more likely to experience increased difficulty sleeping or have changes in appetite. If they develop post-traumatic stress disorder in response to witnessing a violent or traumatic event, children face an increased risk of manifesting physical problems such as headaches, bodily aches and pains, dizziness or other forms of discomfort, according to the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health.
Violence can also trigger behavioral and social problems in children of all ages, especially if they lack adequate familial and social support. Children who are victims of or exposed to violence might act out in aggressive ways, such as increased fighting with friends, siblings or parents. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some children may withdraw from social contact. Children who are victims of abuse may become bullies or act aggressively towards other children. Children who bully often act aggressively because they've been treated in a similar, aggressive manner, says Paul Quinlan, director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Inpatient Services, in an article for the University of Michigan Health System.