PTSD Causes Did Media Coverage of 9/11 Increase Risk for PTSD in Children? By Matthew Tull, PhD Matthew Tull, PhD Twitter Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. Learn about our editorial process Updated on October 18, 2020 Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Cara Lustik Fact checked by Cara Lustik LinkedIn Cara Lustik is a fact-checker and copywriter. Learn about our editorial process Print Larry Merz / Getty Images The effects of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, were inescapable and may have increased risk for PTSD in children and adults. Even people far away from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were exposed to upsetting and traumatic images. This was largely due to the extensive television coverage of the terrorist attacks. A study in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, conducted by Dr. Michael Otto and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, examined whether this extensive media coverage may have put children at risk for the development of PTSD. Kids and Media Coverage of 9/11: The Study This study looked at 84 mothers and their 166 children (ages 7 to 15) from the Boston area who did not have a loved one killed in the 9/11 attacks. The majority of the children heard about the attacks either in the morning (53%) or afternoon (42%) of 9/11. In addition, many children were exposed to some television coverage of the events. 13.8% did not watch any television coverage of the attacks.25.9% watched under an hour of television coverage of the attacks.22.3% watch one hour of television coverage of the attacks.30.7% watched 2 to 4 hours of television coverage of the attacks.4.8% watched 4 to 6 hours of television coverage of the attacks.2.4% watched over 6 hours of television coverage of the attacks. PTSD Rates and Risk Factors for PTSD They found that 5.4% of children and 1.2% of parents in the study had symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of PTSD stemming from indirect exposure to 9/11 events. An additional 18.7% of children and 10.7% of parents showed some symptoms of PTSD, but not enough for an official PTSD diagnosis). Among all children, the amount of television watched on 9/11 was not linked with PTSD rates. However, when considering only children 10 and younger, the development of PTSD was related to the amount of television watched on the day of 9/11. Children who showed more distress during the week of 9/11 and identified more with the victims of 9/11 were more likely to develop symptoms of PTSD. Looking Out For Our Children When people think of PTSD, they often think that a person has to directly experience a traumatic event. However, this study shows that even indirect exposure to traumatic events can increase the likelihood of developing PTSD in populations that may be considered vulnerable, such as children. The live television coverage of 9/11 meant that many children were exposed to distressing images that may have been hard for them to comprehend or cope with. In situations like this, it is important for parents to monitor what their children are watching and, at the same time, help them understand and cope with the situation. The Sidran Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides resources on trauma and PTSD, provides some helpful tips for how parents can help their children cope with and understand a traumatic event. 2 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Otto, M.W., Henin, A., Hirshfeld-Becker, D.R., Pollack, M.H., Biederman, J., & Rosenbaum, J.F. (2007). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms Following Media Exposure to Tragic Events: Impact of 9/11 on Children at Risk for Anxiety Disorders. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 21, 888-902. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2006.10.008 Sidran Institute. Resources. By Matthew Tull, PhD Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for PTSD Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.