“Can you go to the store?” I hated those words. Out there beyond the bright white door within my apartment loomed the darkness of drugs and violence. Living in the housing projects of NYC in the 1980’s seemed like a dark abyss. Heroin and crack addicts plagued the streets of NYC’s lower east side. People walked like zombies, head nodding, bodies bending toward the floor. Their high was so profound that they didn’t even notice the wide-eyed stares of a young girl who walked peering at them in disbelief and wonderment. I always thought to myself, “why?” Why are all these souls so lost in this trance of drugs?
The worst part of my childhood experience was the gun violence plaguing the rest of my neighborhood. Many children lost their lives and many families suffered the loss of a loved one. I witnessed stabbings, deaths as a result of guns and drug abuse. However, I was saved from this impacting my life because my parents were able to keep me off the streets and busy. They were able to afford music school, and piano was my escape. I thrived in the arts, piano, dance, chorus, and drama. I was busy with recitals, drama productions, and the school’s traveling chorus. My world was shielded by these violent experiences because my parents provided a warm environment full of family events, music, and love.
The dynamic systems my parents put in place saved me from being negatively emotionally impacted. However, the children of Pakistan do not have anything or anyone to save them and although as a child, I saw death and violence, it is nothing in comparison to what the children in Pakistan have witnessed and experienced.
According to director of the Research Center for Group Dynamics at the Institute for Social Research (ISR), Rowell Huesmann, violence shape a child’s life and “the most important finding is that simple exposure to violence results in very substantial increases in both the risk of behaving aggressively against your peers in the in-group, and a significant increase in the risk for developing PTS symptoms.” In Huesmann case study, The team started in 2007 with 1,500 kids; 600 Palestinians, 450 Israeli Jewish, and 450 Israeli Arabs split evenly among 8-14-year-olds (Rosegrant 2016).
In addition, the researchers also interviewed a parent of each child or teen. Interviewers approached the same kids and parents every year for three years, asking questions covering 24 indicators of exposure to ethnic-political conflict and violence. These ranged from watching political violence on TV news, to spending hours in a secure shelter, to witnessing actual violence or dealing with the death of a family member or friend. We were particularly surprised by how much war violence leads to increased aggression by youth directed at their own peers” (Rosegrant 2016). The team also found that ethnic political violence has a cascading effect, stimulating violence within ever-smaller social sphere the community, schools, peers, and families, all of which increase the violence of the individual. All of this has policy implications; the researchers plan to recommend approaches both to protect kids from bad effects and to help those already affected. Educating adults about parenting approaches and placing adequate social and therapeutic resources in schools and communities would be important first steps (Rosegrant 2016).
Rosegrant, S. (2016). The Institution for Social Research. Hidden costs of war: Middle East violence and its effect on children