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Matters of Note: Psychological Impact of Exposure to Social Violence on Children

Submitted by on January 12, 2016 – 10:51 PM

Child_Psychology_PageNowadays violence is the major issue in our country which adversely affects each and every individual of the society including children, youth, adults and elderly people. Most of the time, people ignore the feelings of a child who grows up in a violent society. It may be because the effects are not clearly observed during childhood but at the later stages of their lives where they show their personality traits.  Nobody sees the horror inside them and nobody works for psychological well-being (Basheer, 2007). According to the Journal of Islamic Medical Association, it has been stated that their food, shelter is considered the top most priority whereas the emotional health of these children is highly overlooked and they live with fears, apprehensions and aggression for years to come.


This year on 13 may 2015; a horrifying, barbaric incident took place which is known as saniha safora. In that bus attack, approximately 45 people were killed there were four children aging between 6 to 12 years. They had observed this act with their own eyes.


I know a girl in my community who is 9 years of age; her father had been killed in front of her. She had not exposed to any physical injury but that that event has occupied her mind. Till now her mother says that she is not able to get over that situation. She has stopped talking much with her mother because she cannot verbalize the thoughts coming in her mind.


Her teachers are saying that she has stopped participating in class discussion due to lack of confidence, making friends and remains quiet every time which is leading her to perform bad academically. That is why her mother has gotten very strict and overprotective for her. I had observed that she was a very lively, chirpy girl before that happened, but now I have seen that she remains exhausted and frustrated these days. She does not like to involve in group playing activities and keeps herself socially isolated.


I question myself what are her feelings which she cannot verbalize? What is going on in her mind? Does she feel guilty or unworthy for what happened with her? Why she has changed herself suddenly?


Does she remain like that throughout her life or its temporary? What would be done to solve this issue? We can work only if we provide awareness to the people about how to handle such children that is why I have chosen this topic for my scholarly. Another reason is that, it is the heated issue that many children are showing stubbornness, hostility, anger and delinquent behaviors, so the purpose my writing is to provide readers with knowledge for what can be done to reduce such behaviors during childhood.


According to Overview and Summary: Societal Violence: What is Our Response? (2014)  the deliberate use of physical power, threatened or actual, against a community that results in physical injury, psychological harm, maladaptive behavior or deprivation (pg.5). This includes war, terrorisms, political conflict which can be international or within the same nation, racial violence and organized violent crimes e.g. gang wars etc. (Hyder & Razzak, 2013). Every year war and terror kills around 5 million people, which include 830,000 child deaths under the age of 18.


Pakistan is among the countries with highest death rates i.e. 146000 child deaths every year through war, terror and accidents. Among the survivors 20% children suffers through psychological disturbances (Hyder & Razzak, 2013). Still many cases are unreported in Pakistan’s context because of its insufficient surveillance system.


Aspects of social violence


The prevalence of bullying among school children in Pakistan is 41.3% (Shaikh, 2013). School age children with the age 6 to 14 years are usually bullied by the other school students which lower their self-esteem and increases level of aggression. It gives psychological injury to the children. At that point in time, they are not very much conscious about their feelings but when they grow up they develop several negative thoughts which influences their personality in later life.

Terrorism is defined as an act of violence, against innocent people and states by a person or group that believe that their cause is much significant then human life and property (Harjai et al,2005). Trauma change the way children view their world (Harjai et al, 2005). Children who face terrorism directly by watching it live or indirectly by seeing or listening through different mediums are vulnerable to psychological trauma that leads to helplessness in the face of intolerable anxiety and danger. Such children have the higher risk of developing PTSD in future (Ahmed, 2007).

Familial conflicts:
Apart from bullying and terrorism, familial conflict is also one of the reason behind child’s violent behavioral development. Familial conflict is defined as unhealthy relationship or inability to accept differences among the members of a family. According to Economic and Social Research Council Research, (2013) children who develop observing quarrels within the family especially parental fights, blame themselves for the cause therefor they get into behavioral problems such as anti-social behaviors.

Authoritative parenting style:
Parenting plays an important role in child’s upbringing. If this role is not fulfilled properly then the child will have rifts in personality (ijaz and Mahmood, 2009). Children who are nurtured in a strict parental style associate themselves with delinquent and unethical behaviors, similarly depressive children describe their parents as disapproving and overprotective (ijaz and Mahmood, 2009). According to social learning theory, learning occurs through the intake of experiences from the environment, so if the child observes that parents are aggressive then he or she will learn the same behavior (Bandura, 1971).

Toy and Play preference:
Play therapy and toys are crucial for mind diversion of children and it has a key role in improving children’s cognitions and thinking process. According to the assessment of clinical psychologist at Aga Khan University, (2013) it has been found out that now a days we commonly observe  children playing with toy guns, police cars, toy swords etc. This consequently increase their aggression and negative ability to control over others. Another important concern is the types of games which mostly children play are mostly boxing, fighting and violent video games like Counterstrike, which furthermore increase intolerance and impatience among them (Hart, Tannock, 2013).

Role of Media:
Though media plays a significant role in dissemination information, creating awareness and country’s development, but it has many negative impacts as well. One of them is negative impact on child psychology. Effect of aggressive and violent media is the center of concern over the decades. Researchers have found out that increased exposure to violent media results in desensitization to violence, high level of defiance and problematic peer and parental relationships (Wiedeman et al, 2014). According to General Aggression Model considers the aggression through the influence of situational, individual & biological variables.


According to the GAM, how individuals thrive through the environment and move through the experiences, they get different scripts and knowledge structures. (Ghayyur & Farooqi 2010).  Children who see bomb blasts, murders, interpersonal conflicts, action movies and aggressive sports such as wrestling learns that aggression is the way of winning something so they start thinking and behaving aggressively (Ghayyur & Farooqi 2010).  There is also a strong impact of violent cartoons such as Tom & Jerry on children’s life style, dressing, aggression, violent behavior and language (Hassan and Daniyal, 2013). According to the survey of 6-13 years old children was conducted at school of Bahawalpur city of Pakistan,  82.6% liked the fights between Tom and Jerry in addition among these 57.8% liked to fight with their class mates and others loved to watch such comedic fights.


Psychological impact of social violence on children

Low self-confidence:
Children who have been a victim of violence or have observed it directly or indirectly are most commonly sufferer of low self-confidence. They cannot mingle with new people or environment easily. Several times because of their lack of confidence and hopelessness many people stigmatize them and make them feel worthless and increasingly anxious, thus leading suicidal ideation and self-harm (Ahmed, 2007).

Sleep disturbances:
These children who have suffered through violent situations are unable to sleep initially. About 60% children after facing trauma experienced reported insomnia for initial months. (Bhutta, Yousafzai and Zipursky, 2010). It has also been found that they cannot sleep because of the nightmares; bad dreams are visualized by them (Harjai et al, 2005).

Poor academic performance:
In most cases, such children cannot concentrate on their studies which in turn lead to poor school performances and bad results (Nielsen et al, 2015).

Repeated or prolonged exposure to violent activities like observing inside the home or society, television, video games, play involvement etc. are the cause of individual changes which resemble to aggressiveness (Wiedeman et al, 2014). They get frustrated on small thing because they cannot tolerate small changes and they perceive them as an obstacle in the pathways  of their goal achievement therefore they start harming themselves or others physically or verbally. Usually they have poor impulse control that is why they get angry very easily. According to frustration aggression theory, when things do not go according to their way or if they come across hurdles in their life they get frustrated. Greater the level of frustration, higher would be the aggression (Imtiaz, Yasin &Yaseen, 2010).

Delinquent Behaviors:
Many researches have shown that especially those children who grow under rigid parenting are more likely to get involved in delinquent behaviors (Ijaz and Mahmood, 2009). Because the parents are violent, they have lower frustration tolerance. In addition they handle the situation aggressively (Ijaz and Mahmood, 2009).

Social violence badly affects children physically as well as psychologically. It causes serious mantle illness in children which may short term or long term, curable or non-curable. Firstly children who are exposed to violence may exhibit Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. It’s a disorder that occurs after the exposure to the trauma or any stressful situation.


In this the patient experiences continuous flashbacks, nightmares, exaggerated startles, health problems and somatic symptoms like sleep deprivation, academic and cognitive issues (Margolin and Gordis, 2004). Secondly the child starts developing phobias as if considering the world as unsafe. As a consequence of this child will feel helpless which further lead to negative perspectives and interpretations of the situation or people (Margolin and. Gordis, 2004). Thirdly, these children suffer from hypervigilance i.e. increased sensory sensitivity or exaggerated behavior whose purpose is to detect threats.


These patient cannot control their emotions and remain preoccupied, nevertheless: over react to the loud noises and get agitated with crowd environment. Because they cannot bare changes in their lives, new people and new environment they remain socially isolated. Hence they cannot create new friends, adjust with new people and develop maladaptive behavior (Margolin and. Gordis, 2004).



The most important principle of providing interventions is first of all ensure that the child is safe by uniting him with the family if possible and providing psychosocial support is very necessary (Niaz, 2015). Second is that parents most of the time remain unnoticed with the symptoms of violence shown by children so parents need to be aware of their child behavior. For that purpose, parental awareness sessions must be conducted within the communities to teach them about the treatment and care of such children. Effective parenting has helped a lot for the children to get over such traumatic situations (Margolin and. Gordis, 2004).


Third is, schools also play an important role to reduce stress and anxiety for children who faced violence. In this regard, we need to provide effective teachers training related to Cognitive Behavioral Interventions in which, the child is encouraged to imagine their life in future through colorful flowers, paintings and materials to articulate with their inner desires, hopes and goals (Niaz, 2015). Next, to reduce aggression and improve cognitive abilities, it has been observed that by involving the children in recreational activities like sports, dancing painting, writing etc. is highly in reducing aggression, stress, and anxiety in these children. These strategies provide a useful way of catharsis for them to ventilate their emotional tensions and make the mind to feel delighted (Imtiaz, Yasin, and Yaseen, 2010). Providing a friendly environment to the child can also help in emotional expression of children and enhancement of self-esteem or self-optimistic behaviors.


In conclusion, there are many aspects of social violence that includes firstly bullying at school in which the children faces embarrassment which in turns inserts negative thoughts in them. Secondly, terrorism and other traumatic conditions make child to feel helpless and worthless. Thirdly, authoritarian parenting style is one of the reasons of reducing self-esteem. Next is the preference of toy and games by children tends to develop aggression and violent behaviors in children.


Another aspect includes role of media i.e. by watching aggressive programs, children get involved in several violent or antisocial activities. These badly affect the child’s psychology as they reduce children’s self-confidence, alter their sleep pattern, lead to poor academic performances, adopt aggressive and delinquent behavior furthermore they may end up the child into several psychopathologies. To prevent and manage these discrepancies, researchers have provided with several recommendations like parental education, provision of friendly environment school teacher’s training, psychosocial support and engagement of children recreational activities. These strategies are vitally important while providing care and support and very helpful in reducing psychological disabilities in such children.


Hyder, A.A., and J.A. Razzak. ‘The Challenges Of Injuries And Trauma In Pakistan: An Opportunity For Concerted Action’. Public Health 127.8 (2013): 699-703.
Margolin, Gayla, and Elana B. Gordis. ‘Children’S Exposure To Violence In The Family And Community’. Current Directions In Psychological Science 13.4 (2004): 152-155.
Ijaz, Tazvin, and Zahid Mahmood. ‘Relationship Between Perceived Parenting Style And Levels Of Anxiety, Depression And Frustration Tolerance In Female Students’. Pakistan Journal of Psychological Research 24.1-2 (2009): 63-78.
Ahmed, M.Basheer. ‘Effects Of Terrorism On Children’. Journal Of The Islamic Medical Association(2007): 1-11.
Imtiaz, Ruqaya, Ghulam Yasin, and Asif Yaseen. ‘Sociological Study Of The Factors Affecting The Aggressive Behavior Among Youth’. Pakistan Journal of Social Sciences 30.1 (2010): 99-108.
Niaz, Unaiza. ‘Psycho Trauma In Children Exposed To The War Atrocities’. Journal of Pakistan Psychiatric Society 12.1 (2015): 33-35. Print.
Harjai  et al. ‘Terrorism, Trauma And Children’. Medical Journal Armed Forces India 61 (2005): 330-332.
Ghayyur, Mudeera, and Saad Ahmed Farooqi. ‘Violence And Sensationalism In Pakistani Media’. 22.1 (2010): 1-11.
Wiedeman, Ashlee M. et al. ‘Factors Influencing The Impact Of Aggressive And Violent Media On Children And Adolescents’. Aggression and Violent Behavior (2015) M5

About the Author: Naureen Rehman is a student of Bachelors of Science in Nursing at Aga Khan University School of Nursing And Midwifery, Pakistan. She can be reached at [email protected]

About this article: This article is competing for the JPMS International Medical Writing Contest 2015.

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