Aug 17, 2019 | Updated: 07:24 AM EDT

How News Coverage of Racism and Gun Violence Affects Children

Aug 10, 2019 08:25 AM EDT

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In the wake of the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, child behavioral experts examine the negative effects of racism and gun violence on adolescents.

"Two young parents who sacrificed themselves to shield their 2-month-old infant ... were within the age group of young people I serve," says pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist Maria Trent of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who tends to people 25 years old and younger.

The incident in Texas as well as a similar shooting that occurred in Ohio a short time after, are prime examples of the two major risks facing children in the United States today: gun violence and racism. The perpetrator in Texas was reportedly a vocal racist, posting xenophobic comments on his social media pages.

"Older children and adolescents around the country hear the news, listen to adults talking and see this on their social media feeds," said Trent in an interview with Science News. "They need grown-ups to be able to assure them that they are safe - and to know that it's actually the truth."

When asked exactly how racism affects the minds of today's youth Trent said that the effects can start as early as when the child is still in the womb. Young mothers who face racism and the stresses that are encompassed therein are shown to leave visible evidence on their newborn children. This stress sometimes results in preterm labor which can cause low birth weights and could, if not treated properly, develop into psychological problems as these children age due to low self-esteem and the inability to compete with children their own age. Trent continues by stating that kids who experience racism or prejudice on the playground show similar signs to those who have experienced humanitarian crisis, such as earthquakes, tornados and other major disasters.

The stress that children may experience due to the constant news coverage of race issues and gun violence in America could also lead to serious health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and depression, as prolonged stress and fear normally leads to toxic stress that can be debilitating in both children and adults.

Pediatricians all over the country are looking to play a more significant role in the mental and physical well-being of children who are experiencing stress, fear and depression due to the recent atrocities in Ohio and Texas.

"As pediatricians, we will be there to help families with these discussions and both the direct and indirect trauma that these events have caused. We will also continue our advocacy efforts to encourage our government leaders to adopt policies that broadly address gun violence and change the climate of racism impacting children, adolescents and families." concludes Trent in the interview.

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