October 9, 2001
Calvin Prof Studies Impact of War
A research project that Calvin College psychology professor Laura Gillespie DeHaan worked on as a graduate student at Purdue has new relevance a decade later.
DeHaan was part of a project, led by Dr. Myers-Walls of Purdue, that through interviews with children and parents studied the reactions of children to the Persian Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm).
She says that work has again become significant as the U.S. sends troops to Afghanistan.
"Very little research has been done on the effects of war on children," says DeHaan, "especially on those not directly in harm's way. "After Desert Storm we did interviews with children and heard from them as to their perceptions of war. What we learned may hold true with this war as well."
DeHaan and her colleagues found that children were both worried and sad about Desert Storm. Parents also reported that their children had an increased sense of patriotism. And children had very little sense of the war ending or how it ended.
"The good news," she says, "is that even though almost all the children, even pre-schoolers, knew about the war and were worried about it, few parents reported serious behavioral or emotional problems related to the Persian Gulf War."
DeHaan notes that the "plot" of the Persian Gulf conflict paralleled very closely the plot of childrens' war cartoons.
The standard plot of such cartoons includes peace and calm interrupted by an evil person who does something bad out of pure selfishness and greed. The only thing this enemy understands is violence so the good guys fight the bad to restore peace. They win, but the bad guy escapes at the last minute to subject the world to his evil and violent ways again.
"The latest conflict," she says, "also follows this plot and so it too will be very much on the minds of children."
In light of their research DeHaan and her colleagues formulated some ways to talk to children about war. They recommend: