The study conducted by Linares, Heeren, Bronfman, Zuckerman, Augustyn and Tronick in 2001 investigated the role of maternal distress and exposure to community violence on early child development behaviors.
In this study, the hypothesis that community violence has a direct effect on early child problematic behaviors regardless of the effects of maternal socio-economic stress and family aggression was tested. The alternative hypothesis was that community violence indirectly affects early childhood behaviors through the effects of maternal distress. Lastly, the study hypothesized that there is a link between maternal distress and problematic internalized and externalized child behaviors. The recruitment of the participants involved a stringent screening exercise to isolate participants prone to community violence and its influence on psychological functioning. The sample selection involved five urban areas with high crime rates in the city of Boston. The selection of the participants involved two-level eligibility screening process.
Level one screening involved a cross-sectional sample of 689 children aged between 3, 0 and 5, 11 of which 89% confirmed participation in the study exercise. These underwent level two screening exercise, which involved contacting the participants to determine further eligibility. Some participant mothers were excluded in the level two eligibility screening because they were not in the recommended age, not the primary guardian to the child, had not stayed in the target area long enough or received Supplement Security Income. Furthermore, children with chronic medical problems or with genetic disability were also excluded from the study. The remaining participants 160 in total participated in the study.
The study involved two groups of participants based on various indicators of community violence. Fear of crime, social disorder and perceived crime classified the participants into chronic violence category while co-witnessed crime placed the participants into a second category. In this study, the collection of data on social disorder and perceived crime involved the use of community survey questionnaires (Howell 34). Self-reports and interviews were used to collect data on partner aggression towards mother or child, mother’s socio-economic status and maternal posttraumatic stress symptoms. A correlation design used involved the comparison of direct and indirect effects of community violence on child behavior with standardized regression coefficients estimates of model 1 and 2.
Furthermore, there was comparison of these models with other models to determine their suitability in describing the research data. The study using the various models found out that problematic early child behaviors were experienced in children residing in high-crime areas, those where mothers had low social economic status and those without public assistance. The study also found out that exposure to community violence and family violence increased maternal stress. The study concluded that the social economic status and family violence in the presence of community violence led to problematic childhood behaviors. This is against the hypothesis that community violence alone influences early child behavior set out in this study.
However, the maternal distress influenced the level of exposure to community violence and early child problematic behavior. This supports the alternative hypothesis that maternal stress and community violence affect child behavior. Early social learning and development of a child is dependent on the mother.
Maternal distress arising from community violence and family aggression also causes distress to the young children and consequently externalized or internalized behaviors. The study concluded that maternal distress caused by community violence and family aggression influences child behavior. This is true because the psycho-moral development of a child is highly influenced by the mother. Maternal distress leads to child distress, which in turn influences their behaviors.
Programs aimed at reducing chronic violence as well as improve the security of neighborhoods will promote good behaviors among young children. In the 2002 O’Donnell, Schwab-Stone & Muyeed study, school going children in the sixth, eight and tenth grade were surveyed. The participants in this study were of the adolescent ages that are influenced by their peers. This is in contrast with Linares et al. study that involved young children. The main aim of both studies was to investigate the effect of community violence on child behaviors but O’Donnell’s study, involved resilience studies; that is, the ability of the participants to cope effectively with violence related stress. Furthermore, the study included the effect of school, peer support, and family on the resilience. Since majority of the participants were adolescents, the study included substance abuse.
Both of these studies had major successes and limitations. O’Donnell’s study established that youth previously subjected to community violence need positive support to cope with violence related stress. On the other hand, Linares’ study concluded that maternal distress causes distress to young children and consequently influence their behavior. However, in the Linares’ study, the sample study involved children and mothers in crime-prone urban areas and thus this cannot apply to mother and child living in different circumstances.
In addition, the cause of maternal distress did not involve how the mother and child affect each other and the maternal influence on children’s response to violence. On the other hand, the O’Donnell’s study did not include domestic violence. The self-support data collection technique used was not reliable as the respondents can distort the data. The different age groups used in each of these studies led to different conclusions. Linares’ study used young children participants with high maternal influences on their behavior and concluded that high levels of maternal stress leads to problematic child behaviors. On the contrary, O’Donnell’s study used adolescents who are not highly influenced by maternal distress but remain affected by other social factors and concluded that positive support is beneficial to youth affected by community violence.
O’Donnell, Deborah, Schwab-Stone, Mary, and Muyeed, Adaline. “Multidimensional Resilience In Urban Children Exposed to the Community Violence.” Child Development 73.4 (2002): 1265-1282.
Linares, Oriana, et al. “A meditational Model for the Impact of Exposure to Community Violence on Early Child Behavior Problems.” Child Development 72.2 (2001): 639-652.