The beginning of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq can generally be traced back to one tragic event: the infamous 9/11. Although I myself was a young, seven year old child during this experience, I can clearly remember the exact moment, place, and commotion around me when I learned of the fatal terrorist attack, as can several other children of this time period. For children directly involved in this tragedy, such as living in a nearby area or losing close family members due to the attacks, studies have shown that the young children exposed are the most vulnerable of the entire population (Nauert). These local young children that had mothers highly affected by the attacks, such as developing PTSD and depression, were more likely to have clinically significant aggression, anxiety, depression, and issues with sleep (Nauert). Also, losing a parent or loved one due to the terrorist attacks on this infamous day was completely devastating; news stories about this tragic, unexpected event plagued newspapers and television screens, enabling these young children to become overwhelmed and unable to properly grieve . However, children across the nation still felt the brutal sting of 9/11, whether or not they had family involved or even completely understood such a harsh concept. Children, such as myself, knew that something dreadful and frightening had happened, yet they were unable to truly understand why. Robin Goodman, a New York City Psychologist, promotes discussion with the young people she counsels about their strong memories and fears of 9/11, claiming that this day will always be a defining moment within their young lives (Kalb).
After this national tragedy, wars began brewing right before these children’s eyes. However, the general population of children found themselves living their daily lives similar to their previous pre-war days. These children watched as honorable men and women in camouflaged gear left their communities and neighborhoods to go to a far away land known as “the Middle East”. Because the war was being fought virtually across the globe, children were personally unexposed to cruel and brutal battles. Along with this safety by location, the United States Government and media worked to further shield the typical American’s eyes by censoring news stories, photographs, and general information about the war (Arnow). Because these children did not have close family members writing letters home to them, they only could receive the white-washed information the government was providing them about these far away conflicts.
However, children of military families found themselves much more affected than the typical American child. For the first time in American history, the number of dependents at home, such as spouses and children, outnumbered members of the military in Active Duty and Reserve. This would put nearly 2 million children a part of a military family, knowing no life outside of these recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars (Chartrand & Seigel). According to research in 2009, this close relationship with the war can create several adverse effects within children’s behaviors and attitudes. 60% of military spouses identified increased levels of anxiety and fear when the child’s mother or father left for the war; much of this fear could be recognized within 47% of children, who were reported having increased closeness with other family members due to fear of even a brief separation (Zoroya) . 57% reported increased behavioral outbursts at home, such as tantrums and fits when and after a parent is deployed (Zoroya). Melissa Seligman, a military wife, vividly remembers the screams of protest and resistance from her toddler daughter, unhappy after learning her father would soon be fighting a war far away . As Seligman remembers these tantrums, she concludes: “I knew something was wrong with her…I knew this child felt deeply the loss of her dad (Fantz).”
Losing a parent can be challenging enough within itself; for these now anxious and fearful children, hearing the news of a parent or loved one’s death confirms their strong feelings of fear. As of May 2006, approximately 1600 children have fallen victim to losing a parent as a result of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars (Chartrand & Seigel). However, physically losing a parent is not the only issue that may arise; several children welcome home a physically or mentally injured parent due to these wars abroad. Especially when emotional or mental damage has occurred, recreating a relationship with the once absent parent can be challenging and frustrating. In fact, even coming home as “mentally sound” as possible provides a strain within the parent-child relations due to lack of time spent together and changing personalities. For example, Melissa Seligman witnessed her military husband ask their small boy where his Thomas the Train toys were; after giving his father a look of confusion, the little boy turned away and began playing with a new set of toys filled with his new interests that his father was completely unaware of (Fantz).
Although the 9/11 tragedy that sparked the start of these wars impacted virtually all children, the general population of children has basically been shielded from the war abroad. However, children’s behaviors after losing a parent or having a family member involved has caused extensive research on how these children will develop over time, and how the war will continue to affect them throughout their lifespan.
Arnow, Pat. “From Self-Censorship to Official Censorship.” FAIR. N.p., Mar. 2007. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.
Chartrand, Molinda M., and Benjamin Siegel. “At War in Iraq and Afghanistan: Children in US Military Families.” Ambulatory Pediatrics 7.1 (2007): n. pag. ArSCA. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.
Fantz, Ashley. “War Affects Children in Unforeseen Ways.” CNN. Cable News Network, 13 Mar. 1970. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.
Kalb, Claudia. “9/11’s Children Grow Up.” News Week. Newsweek LLC, 3 June 2010. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.
Nauert, Rick. “9/11 Had Significant Impact on Young Children.” Psych Central News. Psych Central, 2010. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.
Zoroya, Gregg. “Troops’ Kids Feel War Toll.” USATODAY. N.p., 25 June 2009. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.
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