Children who grow up in dangerous neighborhoods exhibit more aggressive behavior, according to a new paper in Societies.
Lots of U.S. studies have suggested a link between dangerous neighborhoods and aggressive behavior in kids but the authors of the new paper wanted to determine whether the pattern held true worldwide. So they interviewed parents and children from 1,293 families in nine countries: China, Colombia, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, the Philippines, Sweden, Thailand and the United States.
The questions involved dangers in their neighborhoods. Based on the answers, the researchers scored the neighborhoods according to their degree of danger.
To measure children's aggressive behavior, researchers asked parents and children to complete a widely used child-behavior checklist that captures behaviors such as screaming and threatening people. The researchers sought answers from mothers, fathers and children for the surveys, in order to obtain a fuller portrait.
In neighborhoods that parents described as highly dangerous, children exhibited higher levels of aggressive behavior. This link held true across all nine countries studied, based on parents' responses, said lead author Ann T. Skinner, a researcher with Duke's Center for Child and Family Policy.
"This is an incredibly diverse set of countries from around the world, representing countries from the developing and the developed world and including individualistic and collectivist societies," Skinner said. "In all the countries we studied, we see that living in a dangerous neighborhood may affect kids negatively."
The study further suggests that perilous neighborhoods may affect children indirectly, through their parents. In all nine countries, when children reported living in more dangerous neighborhoods, harsh parenting practices were more common, as was child aggression. However, adults' and children's perceptions differed on that point. More research is needed to determine whether or not dangerous neighborhoods promote harsh parenting practices, Skinner said.