Chidren's reactions to violence change as they grow up

August 22, 2000

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Young children view violent events in emotional and dramatic terms, while older children see violence in a more intellectual and detached way, a new study has found.

Researchers at Ohio State University surveyed 341 fifth, seventh, ninth and 12th graders in Ohio three weeks after the Columbine school shootings in 1999 while NATO was in the midst of bombing Serbia.

The students were asked to list as many ways as possible in which the two events were different and similar.

"The similarities and differences that younger children identified were very different from what we saw in the lists written by older children," said Daniel Christie, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State's Marion campus.

"The older children gave a more intellectual analysis of the events, while the young students saw the events in much more personal terms."

Christie conducted the research with undergraduate students Curtis Tuggle, Morgan Lucas and Krista Krumanaker. They presented the research recently at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

Christie said young children reported on concrete differences and similarities between the two events, such as the types of weapons used (guns, bombs or ammunition.) They were very concrete about the kinds of violence involved, using words like killing, dying, shooting, and fighting. They also mentioned the emotions of both the perpetrators and the victims of the violence (such as hate, anger, fear).

The older children tended to list differences and similarities that were more abstract and inferential. They treated the events in intellectual terms, applying just war principles (saying the NATO bombing was legitimate, while the Columbine shootings were not). They also drew distinctions about motives underlying the NATO bombings vs. the Columbine shootings, and differentiated the causes of the two events.

"Young children seem to be more personally affected by the violence, putting a human face on the events, while older children are more detached and analytical," Christie said.

The results suggest that older children and adults may be less emotionally upset than youngsters about the violence around them. "If you intellectualize violence too much, you may not attend to the very human consequences," Christie said. "Younger children connect emotionally to the people who are hurt by violent events, but that seems to be lost to some extent as we get older."

Christie said more research needs to be given to the developmental changes in the way children process violent events.

"While there are many studies about the impact of violence on children, not enough attention has been given to how children process violent events and, especially, how these processes change with age," he said.
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457;

Ohio State University

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