The majority of research on terrorism-exposed youth has examined large-scale terrorism with mass casualties. Limited research has examined children’s reactions to terrorism of the scope of the Boston Marathon bombing. Furthermore, the extraordinary postattack interagency manhunt and shelter-in-place warning made for a truly unprecedented experience in its own right for families. Understanding the psychological adjustment of Boston-area youth in the aftermath of these events is critical for informing clinical efforts.
Survey of Boston-area parents/caretakers (N = 460) reporting on their child’s experiences during the attack week, as well as psychosocial functioning in the first 6 attack months.
There was heterogeneity across youth in attack- and manhunt-related experiences and clinical outcomes. The proportion of youth with likely attack/manhunt-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was roughly 6 times higher among Boston Marathon–attending youth than nonattending youth. Attack and manhunt experiences each uniquely predicted 9% of PTSD symptom variance, with manhunt exposures more robustly associated than attack-related exposures with a range of psychosocial outcomes, including emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperactivity/inattention, and peer problems. One-fifth of youth watched >3 hours of televised coverage on the attack day, which was linked to PTSD symptoms, conduct problems, and total difficulties. Prosocial behavior and positive peer functioning buffered the impact of exposure.
Clinical 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.