BOSTON (CBS) — Dealing with a tragedy is tough for everyone, but it is particularly challenging for children who are trying to find their way in the world. Psychologists say many of the effects of a traumatic event like the Boston Marathon bombings emerge between six months to a year after a person is exposed.
People in Watertown remember the shootout between law enforcement and Tsarneav brothers like it was yesterday. “It happened right in my neighborhood, I live on Quimby Street,” said Costas Krouskas as he waited to pick up his children at the Hosmer Elementary School. “My friend’s house had bullets going through it, on Laurel Street.”
Parents like Rachelle Dickie say the memories of those nights lingered with local children. “It was a couple of months before these kids felt safe.”
Psychologist Jonathan Comer led a project at Boston University to assess how children who lived near the bombings and manhunt were affected, as opposed to those who live in more distant suburbs. “Here was an opportunity to study a high profile terrorist attack that intentionally targeted a child and family event. This was not an office building,” added Comer.
In a survey, local parents answered dozens of questions about how their families experienced this act of terrorism. They were asked where their children were during key events, how information was relayed to them, and if they knew anyone who was killed or injured.
Comer said there was a lot of variability in how the children were affected. “There were subgroups of children who showed particularly poor responses. Kids who were at the Marathon, kids who were at the finish line showed six times higher rates of PTSD than kids who were not at the marathon.”
Another finding stood out: “The events of the manhunt were more robustly associated with negative child outcomes than exposure to the attack itself,” added Comer.
Of the police dragnet in Watertown, Comer said, “Under conditions of uncertainty, we see more difficult emotional problems. It was an uncontained situation.”
While being near the manhunt or the explosions definitely had the greatest impact on children, researchers found they were not the only ones adversely affected. “This was the first major terrorist attack where there was so much internet based exposure,” said Comer.
Social media also played a big role in the news saturation. “Exposure can also mean that you watched it on the news and experienced it on a very visceral level,” explained Comer.
After exposure to a traumatic event, most people don’t exhibit problems like trouble sleeping or anxiety many months down the road.
When it comes to children, Comer says the best thing for parents to do is stay as calm as possible, and reassure their children they are doing everything possible to keep them safe.
Watertown might never be the same after that night last April, but Costas Krouskas hopes they’ve emerged stronger. “I think that it brought the community together, no question about that.”
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