Explaining neighborhood crime to your kids
The numbers are sobering. According to the FBI, there were 1.2 million violent crimes in the United States in 2016 – up more than four percent over the previous year. Violence is unsettling for children, whether they witnessed the crime or not. What happens to kids in the aftermath of crime and how can parents lessen the impact?
A violent crime happens every 26 seconds in the United States- assault, robbery, rape and murder.
“There are drug dealers here within two or three houses of me,” said a local Chicago man.
Emma Adam, PhD, is a professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University, studying the impacts of neighborhood crime on preteens’ and teens’ academic performance.
“How did that violence that they’re exposed to get under the skin into the brain to affect performance?” asked Adam.
Adam tracked the stress level and sleep of 82 urban public school students. Researchers tested the students’ saliva for the stress hormone cortisol. Students also wore special watches that recorded daily activity levels, including sleep.
“We thought perhaps the violent crime was affecting children’s sleep, which in turn may be affecting performance,” Adam told Ivanhoe.
Using police reports, researchers compared student’s sleep and stress levels on nights with violent crime in the neighborhood against a night with no crime reported. They found kids got less sleep when there was neighborhood crime and their cortisol levels were higher the next morning.
“The other interesting thing we found was the more violent the nature of the crime, the larger the effects,” detailed Adam.
Adam said stress and sleep are both influenced by how safe a child feels. Parents can reduce the effects of neighborhood crime by protecting kids from the details of the crime. At home, expressing love and support increases feelings of safety. Also, keeping a regular bedtime is important for helping kids fall asleep, even for teens.
Adam and her colleagues are starting a new study with a larger sample of about 300 kids. She said one of the goals is to measure more of the factors that might buffer kids from the negative impact of crime.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Bob Walko, Editor and Roque Correa, Videographer.
Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.