Exposure to violence, whether directly through abuse or indirectly through images in the media, can have a negative effect on a child's development. About 10 million children each year see at least one act of violence, according to the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence. Seeing just one act of violence can have a negative effect on a child's physical, emotional and mental development.
Violence aimed directly at a child through physical or sexual abuse can have immediate effects, according to a 2005 article published in the "North Carolina Medical Journal." During and immediately following an act of child abuse, a child's brain chemicals start firing overtime and she starts producing excess stress hormones. If a child is repeatedly abused, this can cause permanent brain changes that affect a child's cognitive function, according to the journal article. Child abuse can negatively affect social development, too. Children who are abused at home often have difficulty forming friendships with peers and might have a hard time forming trusting relationships with other adults such as teachers and coaches.
Between 3 and 10 million children witness an act of violence by one parent against another each year, according to the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence. Domestic violence can be particularly detrimental to a child because he is attached to both parents and relies on them to take care of him. Watching one parent abuse another parent can negatively affect academic development because it interferes with a child's concentration and ability to do school work. Seeing acts of domestic violence can also affect a child's ability to make friends, and can also cause a child to have trouble sleeping and eating. A lack of sleep and an unhealthful diet can negatively affect both physical and emotional development.
Many children live in neighborhoods that have regular acts of violence such as shootings and muggings, and at least 10 million children witness at least one of those violent acts each year. While these acts of violence aren't directed toward a child, seeing them can have a negative effect on a child's development. A child who lives in a dangerous neighborhood might spend many of his waking hours frightened, which increases stress hormones and can interfere with proper brain development. Many children also experience post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders and depression, each of which can negatively affect brain development and mental health.
Violence in the Media
Perhaps one of the most common avenues for children to be exposed to violence is through the media. Children see an average of 200,000 violent acts on TV before they turn 18 years old, according to the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence, and while they aren't always real, they can be just as detrimental as witnessing actual violence. Seeing media violence can cause children to become fearful of the world and can interfere with normal academic and emotional development.
- Child Welfare Information Gateway: Understanding the Effects of Maltreatment on Brain Development
- ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education: Violence and Young Children's Development
- National Center for Children Exposed to Violence: Community Violence
- National Center for Children Exposed to Violence: Media Violence
- National Center for Children Exposed to Violence: Domestic Violence
- National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges: A Judicial Checklist For Children and Youth Exposed to Violence
- North Carolina Medical Journal: The Impact of Maltreatment on the Developing Child
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images