How childhood trauma influences adolescent violence and depression in poor urban areas

An image to illustrate childhood trauma
© iStock/ipolonina

A new study has assessed how childhood trauma influences adolescent violence and depression in poor urban areas and how gender affects this.

Childhood trauma including physical and emotional neglect, violence, and sexual abuse is strongly associated with adolescent violence and depression in poor urban areas around the world.

Dr. Robert Blum, lead researcher for the Global Early Adolescent Study (GEAS), commented: “This is the first global study to investigate how a cluster of traumatic childhood experiences known as ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences, work together to cause specific health issues in early adolescence with terrible, life-long consequences. And while we found young girls often suffer significantly, contrary to common belief, boys reported even greater exposure to violence and neglect, which makes them more likely to be violent in return.”

Childhood trauma and adolescent violence

The study found that:

  • 46% of young adolescents reported experiencing violence;
  • 38% suffered emotional neglect;
  • 29% experienced physical neglect;
  • Boys were more likely than girls to report physical neglect, sexual abuse and violence victimisation;
  • For boys and girls, the more adversity experienced, the more likely they were to engage in adolescent violence, including bullying, threaning or hitting someone; however,
  • However, the effect of the childhood trauma was more pronounced, with the boys in this group eleven times more likely to be engaged in violence, while girls were four times more likely.

How does gender affect the link to adolescent violence and depression?

The authors conclude that the key to achieving gender equality by 2030 involves addressing conditions and stereotypes that are harmful to both boys and girls, and they advocate much earlier intervention. The authors note that intervening at age 15 is the norm now, but they argue that it should be done in early adolescence by age 10. They state that early adolescence intervention is critical because “gender norms, attitudes, and beliefs appear to solidify by age 15 or 16.”

The report calls for a broader set of indicators to track progress, including:

  • “Tracking the percentage of both boys and girls who at the community level feel that they can ask for help when needed since there appears to be a strong relationship between voice and empowerment”; and
  • “Tracking the percentage of boys and girls who feel safe in their neighbourhood, as safety and security is a critical factor in the healthy development of both boys and girls; for example, the new study on adverse childhood experiences found a third of children reported a persistent fear of physical harm.”

The report states: “[It is important to] address gender inequalities and rigid gender expectations that limit the future of many of the world’s young people…We must actively engage girls and boys at the onset of adolescence to increase total social inclusion and produce generational change.”

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