Study Looks at Children Impacted by the Boston Marathon Bombings

Eleven percent of children surveyed who attended the 2013 Marathon reported post-traumatic stress.

Boston University School of Medicine has already released a study which showed how veterans were impacted by the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. Now, a new study, released by the American Academy of Pediatrics, looks at how the events affected children.

Published in the July 2014 journal, Pediatrics, “Adjustment Among Area Youth After the Boston Marathon Bombing and Subsequent Manhunt,” examines how young people in the Boston-area were affected by the Marathon bombings. The report also looked at how the subsequent lockdown and manhunt, which impacted nearly 1 million Boston-area residents just a few days after the bombing, affected children in our area.

The new report, which was a joint study by psychologists from Boston University and Florida International University, says that while research has documented the psychosocial toll of terrorism on young people, most of that work was focused on large-scale attacks such as Sept. 11.

Because the Boston Marathon is a “civilian family event,” a study has not yet been done on this kind of scale. According to the report:

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 post-traumatic 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. “Efforts must maintain a broadened focus beyond simply youth present at the blasts and must also include youth highly exposed to the intense interagency pursuit and manhunt. Continued research is needed to understand the adjustment of youth after mass traumas and large-scale manhunts in residential communities,” researchers say in the study.