Flinching as a gunshot whizzes past your window. Covering your ears when a police car races down your street, sirens blaring. Walking past a drug deal on your block or a beating at your school.
For kids living in picket-fence suburbia, these experiences might be rare. But for their peers in urban poverty, they are all too commonplace. More than half of children and adolescents living in cities have experienced some form of community violence — acts of disturbance or crime such as drug use, beatings, shootings, stabbings and break-ins within their neighborhoods or schools.
Researchers know from decades of work that exposure to community violence can lead to emotional, social and cognitive problems. Kids might have difficulty regulating emotions, paying attention or concentrating at school. Over time, kids living with the stress of community violence may become less engaged in school, withdraw from friends or show symptoms of post-traumatic stress, like irritability and intrusive thoughts. In short, living in an unsafe community can have a corrosive effect on child development.
Few studies, though, have specifically looked at the toll community violence may take on the growing brain. Recently, I studied this question in collaboration with a team of researchers here at the University of Southern California…