A telephone survey has revealed that more than quarter of children in the U.S. are exposed to weapons violence either as victims or witnesses.
The experience could place children at increased risk of suffering from anxiety, depression, mental health disorder and difficulties in school, work and relationships.
For the new study published in Pediatrics on June 8, Kimberly Mitchell, from the University of New Hampshire, and colleagues reported that over 17.5 million children who were between 2 and 17 years old were either victimized by weapons such as stick, gun, knife and rock, or witnessed victimization with a weapon.
The number comprises over 26 percent of the sample and far exceeds the number of children diagnosed with cancer or diabetes.
The researchers looked at the data gathered from a national telephone survey involving 4,114 children. During the interview, the participants who were over 10 years old gave answers to the researchers' questions themselves. Caregivers, on the other hand, provided answers on behalf of the children who were younger than 10 years old.
While families in the research were from all income levels, the researchers found that the children who have increased odds of getting exposed to weapon violence are boys, minorities, and those from low-income families who were not living with two parents.
The researchers likewise found that the likelihood of being a victim or witness in weapon attacks was higher for children who were not living with parents, those whose friends carry such weapons and those who carry the weapons themselves.
The children were most exposed to violence involving sticks, bottles, and rocks but about 3 percent reported exposure to knives and guns.
Experts said that parents should be on the lookout for signs that the children may have been exposed to violence. The children may still show signs that indicate a potential problem regardless if they do not talk about it by complaining of stomachaches or headaches that do not seem to have medical cause and by refusing to go to school.
"More than 2 million youth in the United States (1 in 33) have been directly assaulted in incidents where the high lethality risk weapons of guns and knives were used," the researchers wrote. "Findings add to the field's broadening conceptualization of youth victimization highlighting the potentially highly consequential risk factor of weapon exposure as a component of victimization experiences on the mental health of youth."
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