A study that analyzed children from nine countries—including more than 300 families in Durham—found that children raised in a dangerous neighborhood are more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior.
More than 1,290 families—from China, Colombia, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, the Philippines, Sweden, Thailand and the United States—took part in the study led by Ann Skinner, a researcher with Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy. Although it has been widely accepted that there is a link between dangerous neighborhoods and aggressive children in the U.S., this was one of the first studies to examine the correlation internationally.
In neighborhoods that were determined to be dangerous, children displayed higher levels of aggression, Skinner said.
“We were able to replicate across the globe in a wide range of cultures, that when parents reported they lived in a dangerous neighborhood, we also saw increased levels of child aggression,” she said.
Skinner noted that this observation was previously only reported with domestic samples.
Since 2008, more than 300 Durham families were a part of the study that used parent responses to measure levels of child aggression—targeting behaviors like screaming and threatening others.
Although differing parenting techniques were not found to be an effective way to mediate aggression when in dangerous neighborhoods, the study found that parents in dangerous areas often opted for harsher parenting techniques, Skinner said—noting that this style elevated the levels of reported aggression.
“When children reported they felt they lived in a dangerous neighborhood, this was linked with harsher parenting methods, which were in turn linked with more child aggression,” she said. “Parent and child reports were mixed on this point, however, and this study only talks about correlations, not causes.”
She added that further study will be needed to determine how parenting techniques influence the displays of aggression in children.
Throughout the nine countries of study, researchers asked families questions about their perception of the neighborhoods in which they lived. Using their answers, researchers then assigned levels of danger to the neighborhood.
The study distinguishes that it is the perception of danger that was taken into account rather than the statistics of crime in the area.
In all nine countries studied, both mother and father responses indicated an association between dangerous neighborhoods and child aggression, but this link was only reported in the children’s responses from five of the nine countries.
“In this particular manuscript, we were looking at neighborhood danger in a much broader context, and were trying to identify the mechanisms by which dangerous neighborhoods might affect child behavior,” Skinner said.
She noted, however, that they did not classify residents based on the danger of their neighborhoods, but rather allowed families to classify themselves based on their perception of their environment.
Beverly Thompson, director of the Durham Office of Public Affairs, said there are many organizations in Durham that are working with local “low-wealth or impoverished” families.
“East Durham is the city’s target area for crime reduction,” Thompson wrote in an email Friday.
One such group is Durham’s Partnership for Children. The organization works with the Durham community to help prepare children under the age of five for school. In order to qualify for the program, families must fall at or below the poverty level.
In its 2009-2010 Annual Report, Durham’s Partnership for Children noted that 56 percent of parents reported challenging behaviors for children at the beginning of the program and only 16 percent reported challenging behaviors at the end.
“To ensure every child in Durham enters school ready to succeed, we lead community strategies for children from birth to five [years of age] and their families that promote healthy development and learning and enhance access to high quality care,” Communications Manager Elaine Erteschik explained as the mission for Durham’s Partnership for Children.
A recent report by the Durham County school board found that there have been unnecessarily high suspension rates in the past several years. New guidelines are being put in place to help lower these rates—which disproportionately affect black and minority students and students with disabilities.
In North Carolina, during the 2011-12 school year, the North Carolina Bar Association reported that black students—who make up approximately 26 percent of the total student population—accounted for 56.8 percent of short-term suspensions in the state.
“In our sample, we recruited families from about 15 public and two private elementary schools across Durham in 2007-2008, and while we have a wide distribution of socioeconomic levels in our study, they are not evenly distributed across any specific neighborhoods, as this was not a main focus of our original grant,” Skinner said.
The families will continue to be monitored for about four years to continue collecting data as the children grow up, she added.