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Terrorism: The Psychological Impact on Youth


  • Jonathan S. Comer is now at Columbia University/New York State Psychiatric Institute.

Address correspondence to Jonathan S. Comer, Columbia University, New York State Psychiatric Institute, Unit 78, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1051 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10032. E-mail:


Research on the psychological impact of terrorism on youth is reviewed and evaluated. Children having proximal contact with terrorism show elevated posttraumatic stress, separation anxiety, and/or other symptoms. Following a terrorist attack, youth proximal and distal to the attack are exposed to a vast amount of attack-related media coverage and exposure to such media coverage is associated with postattack posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomatology. However, the research is inchoate, including an insufficient scope and methodological limitations. Research has yet to examine the impact that exposure to an extended context of threat, expectation, and alert has on child development. Importantly, how are children influenced by secondhand terrorism—the context in which cultural influences disproportionately attend to the possibilities, rather than probabilities, of future terrorism? Research is needed to evaluate the impact of terrorism on psychopathology (beyond PTSD), functional impairment, and ethnic stereotyping in youth, and to examine the efficacy of psychological programs that strive to redress the problems of youth affected by terrorism.