Anthony Steven Dick is a Developmental Science and Cognitive Neuroscience Professor at Florida International University. He studies the neurobiology of language and executive function using diffusion-weighted and functional imaging. He is specifically interested in how these cognitive processes are mutually supported by developing structural and functional neural networks, in both typically developing and atypically developing children (e.g., children with ADHD, pediatric stroke). He received baccalaureate degrees in Music and Psychology from The Ohio State University, and a Ph.D. from Temple University in Philadelphia. Following his Ph.D., he received additional training as a NIDCD NRSA Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Neurology at The University of Chicago.
Disaster News Can Trigger Post-Traumatic Stress in Kids
Many of us consume sensationalized news of traumatic events, but unfortunately, children are watching, too—and our research shows that they don’t even need to be physically close to these events to experience mental health consequences.
We found that excessive media exposure of a major climate event, like a hurricane, led to post-traumatic stress symptoms — even in children living thousands of miles away from the storm’s path. We also found some kids with a particular brain response in the amygdala made them more vulnerable to those effects.
This risk is important for parents and media to understand. In just the past few months, news coverage has been saturated with images of wildfires burning through neighborhoods in Colorado, tornado damage across the Midwest, a school shooting in Michigan and news of rising illnesses from the COVID-19 pandemic.
With climate change, researchers estimate that today’s children will face three times as many climate-related disasters as their grandparents. And the pervasiveness of social media and 24-hour news make exposure to images of these disasters more likely.
Post-traumatic stress can adversely affect long term health in children. Understanding which factors help determine whether disaster exposure will lead to serious mental health problems may help identify children at greatest risk for PTSD, facilitate early intervention and help develop targeted mental health outreach in the aftermath of disasters.
We recommend for parents to monitor and limit access to some internet content for young viewers. Intermittent check-ins of breaking news may be appropriate, but the TV and social media do not have to be on constantly.