Children in Boston Survey Exposed Early to Violence

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One in 10 children whose mothers responded to a survey at a Boston health clinic had witnessed a knifing or a shooting by age 6, a study has found.

Besides chronicling the prevalence of violence in the lives of inner- city youngsters, the study--which the researchers say is the first of its kind to focus on young children--also highlights effects on "the caregiving of parents'' when they fear for their children's safety.

The survey involved 115 children whose mothers brought them to Boston City Hospital's primary-care pediatric clinic. Their mothers were asked about their own experiences and those of their oldest child under age 6. More than half of the mothers were single, about three-quarters had annual incomes under $10,000, and their average age was 28. The average age of the children was 2.7.

Of the 115 children, 8 were reported to have seen a shooting--half at home and half in the neighborhood--and 4 had witnessed a knifing--3 of them at home. Another 21 had seen shoving, kicking, or punching--5 in the home--and 15 of the 21 had seen such events more than once.

One in 3 of the mothers also witnessed shootings and stabbings, and several were victims: 1 reported being shot, 10 reported being knifed, and 40 were shoved, kicked, or punched.

The study, which is being prepared for publication, was conducted from July to October 1991. Researchers summarized the findings at the annual meeting of the Ambulatory Pediatric Association this month.

Coping With Violence

Dr. Barry Zuckerman, a professor of pediatrics at Boston City Hospital and Boston University School of Medicine and one of the researchers, said younger children may be especially vulnerable "because they don't have the level of cognitive development to fully understand the violence--or the language skills to express their feelings.''

Such children, he said, "may suppress their feelings and become dead inside,'' increasing the likelihood that they could perpetrate violence themselves in later years.

The study also raises questions about the effects of limiting children's movements out of fear.

"We found that moms make adaptations in behavior that protect the young children,'' such as limiting the time they do errands or restricting where their children play, said Dr. Laura Taylor, the principal researcher and a fellow in developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Boston City Hospital and B.U. medical school.

"What happens when you have a very active toddler and ... you feel like you can't ... go outside?'' she asked. "We can speculate that would put tremendous stress on the parent-child relationship.''

Vol. 11, Issue 35, Page 11

Published in Print: May 20, 1992, as Children in Boston Survey Exposed Early to Violence
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