Everyone responds differently to terror. Like adults, some children are naturally resilient. Others can suffer scars that, untreated, last well into adulthood. Among the repercussions most commonly endured by children exposed to violence are: post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, attachment issues, difficulty concentrating, sleep disorders, suicidal thoughts, alcohol and substance abuse and delinquent behavior.
…Low-income, inner-city youth, like the 300,000 living in Los Angeles’ gang “hot zones,” are at the greatest risk. According to research, 90 percent of these children and teens have been victims or witnesses of felony-level violence. Their scars run deep. A fifth of youth living in these areas suffer from clinical depression and one third have PTSD. In addition, chronic stress from growing up in a violent neighborhood, home or both produces elevated levels of certain chemicals and hormones that are believed to impair brain development in children. Specifically, the areas of the brain impacted are those responsible for learning, memory, concentration and regulating emotions and actions.
… A study conducted in Chicago found that children and teens who lived within 10 blocks of a murder — regardless of whether they witnessed it or knew the victim — had reduced scores on vocabulary and reading tests, when a test was taken within a week of the crime.
…Though violence is substantially more prevalent in low-income neighborhoods, children from all zip codes may be exposed. In fact, nationwide, more than two million young people are estimated to have PTSD. Most people feel fearful, anxious or disorganized after witnessing violence. Individuals with PTSD continue to feel that way for extended periods of time, ranging from months to years. Their symptoms are debilitating and include emotional numbing and detachment, increased arousal, trouble sleeping and nightmares.
…In very young children, PTSD can cause regressive behavior like bedwetting and thumb sucking. These children also may stop speaking and become excessively clingy to a parent. They don’t necessarily experience flashbacks like adults, but often act out the violent event during play.