How Do You Wreck the Mind of a Child? One Word: War

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Two boys walking around neighbourhood of Ramallah.

As yet another round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks crank up, here’s something that the intractable parties on both sides might consider: Neither country is going to have much of a future if they persist in driving their kids crazy.

It’s hardly a secret that children and war don’t mix, and there is nothing that should shame us more than seeing kids hurt or killed in the pointless battles the adults around them wage. But children who escape without a visible scratch are being scarred too, and a new, three-year study of 1,500 Arab and Israeli young people shows how bad the damage is.

According to psychologist Rowell Huesmann of the University of Michigan, lead author on the research, nearly 50% of Palestinian kids ages 11 to 14 have seen other Palestinians crying over the war-related death of a loved one, and another 50% had seen an injured or dead Palestinian directly. For Israeli children the numbers were somewhat lower — 25% had seen people grieving and 10% had seen casualties — but no less damaging to the individual child. (More on How Kids Get Clobbered by Racial Discrimination)

Up to 50% of Palestinian kids, 40% of Israeli kids and 70% of Israeli Arab kids who saw these things reported suffering from  nightmares. Much worse (if not surprising), violence begets violence. Up to 71% of Israeli and Palestinian kids who had witnessed the suffering of war admitted having slapped, choked, punched or beaten someone else or even brandished a gun or a knife in anger.

“Violence is a contagious disease just like smallpox or typhoid,” says Huessman. If that’s so, the Israelis and Palestinians alike have spent more than half a century spreading the infection. It’s time they both woke up, grew up and stopped.

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