Toronto, Sep 17: Witnessing violence in high school may lead to emotional distress among children and affect their academic performance later, suggests a new research.
The findings, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, suggest that schools should seek to empower bystander students who are not directly involved in acts of school violence, rather than giving them messages to stay uninvolved.
For the study, the researchers statistically tested the relationship between witnessing school violence in Grade 8 and subsequent anti-social behaviour (drug use, delinquency), emotional distress (social anxiety, depressive symptoms), and academic adjustment (school achievement, engagement) in Grade 10.
The research involved nearly 4,000 high-school students in Canada.
There were several take-home messages. First, witnessing school violence in Grade 8 predicted later impairment at Grade 10. Second, bystander effects were very similar to being victimized by violence directly, said study co-author Linda Pagani, Professor at University of Montreal in Canada.
The researchers examined different forms of violence and established the fact that witnessing major violence including physical assaults or carrying weapons is associated with drug use and delinquency later.
The effect was the same for hidden or veiled violence, which included theft and vandalism.
Witnessing minor violence (threats and insults) resulted in an increase in drug use, social anxiety, depressive symptoms, and decrease in engagement and participation at school, the findings showed.
Most students reported witnessing violence. It is clear that approaches to prevention and intervention should include witnesses as well victims and perpetrators and target all forms of school violence, Michel Janosz of University of Montreal said.
Supportive family and community relationships also prevent emotional desensitisation to violence which contribute to aggressive behaviour in youth, Janosz said.