Research has documented the psychosocial toll of
terrorism on young people, but most of that work has focused on large-scale attacks like Sept. 11.
A new study in the July 2014 Pediatrics, “Adjustment Among Area Youth After the Boston Marathon Bombing and Subsequent Manhunt,” published online June 2, examines how young people in the Boston area were affected by the 2013 bombing at the marathon, a civilian family event, and the subsequent manhunt that impacted nearly 1 million Boston-area residents.
Researchers surveyed 460 parents of children who lived within 25 miles of the marathon or Watertown. About 11 percent of surveyed children who attended the marathon reported
posttraumatic stress, a rate comparable to that found among New York City school children six months after Sept. 11. This proportion of youth with PTSD was roughly 6 times higher among youth who attended the marathon than youth who did not attend the event. Children watched an average of 1.5 hours of
television coverage on the attack day, and 21 percent of children watched more than three hours. Only about a third of parents tried to restrict children’s exposure to coverage of the attack and manhunt. Among surveyed families, exposure to the manhunt was more robustly associated with children’s broad
mental health problems than exposure to the attack itself.
According to the study authors, the findings can help identify youth in greatest need of clinical attention following a traumatic event such as terrorist attack. The study demonstrates that the
community responses that follow an attack can also have considerable impact on children’s psychological well-being.