Exposure to violence at home and in the community negatively affects children, threatening not just their physical safety but their long-term development. Children who experience or witness violence may become more aggressive (externalizing problems) or have higher levels of depression and anxiety (internalizing problems).
These investigators sought to determine whether conflict at home increased the negative effects of community violence, and whether it varied by gender. Family conflict ranges from arguments and yelling to hitting and shoving between family members, sometimes directed at a child. Community violence includes problems with drug users/sellers, delinquent gangs, crime, assaults and burglaries.
The researchers used data from 728 children and their families who participated in the Infant Health and Development program, an eight-site randomized trial to evaluate an intervention to improve outcomes for low-birthweight children that began in 1985. Data was collected from caregivers and children eight times in the child’s first three years and five times subsequently, including at age 18.
For male and female children, living in a high-conflict family exacerbated the negative effects of community violence. Being in a low-conflict family had a protective effect for males but had no such effect for females.