Kids may think more globally than they did before Sept. 11, 2001, but they are still more concerned locally, according to a Sesame Workshop study released yesterday.
The survey of children ages 6 to 11 reported that more of them felt safe now than the children who were surveyed shortly after the Columbine High School shootings of April 1999, in large part because parents and other adults were paying more attention to their concerns.
The study concludes that children's "worst fears might not be related to large-scale events [which get adults to pay attention to their children and to each other] but to seemingly less significant events that grown-ups ignore," such as schoolyard bullies.
The surveyed children's concern about personal safety is down, not up, said Kyle Pruett, a child psychiatrist at Yale University who participated in a discussion about the Sesame study yesterday at the National Press Club.
"In 2000 they felt they were sitting in seats in a theater of violence," said Pruett, referring to Sesame Workshop's survey after Columbine. "Not only were children the victims, they were the perpetrators. It was happening in their world and grown-ups did not pay attention" in the long term, he said.
"After September 11, the grown-ups were paying attention," Pruett continued. "They held block parties, put signs up saying 'Our freedom matters.' "
Pruett added that the survey also shows "the menacing effects of bullying in kids' lives on a daily basis." They seem to be more worried about the bully next door than Osama.
The study is the third in the last two years conducted by Sesame Workshop, creator of TV's "Sesame Street." The first was conducted in 2000, the year after the Columbine shootings; the second was done two weeks after Sept. 11; and the most recent was completed last May, about nine months after the attacks on New York and Washington. The most recent version also included a separate sample of Arab American children.
That survey showed responses similar to the other children surveyed, except when they were asked, "What makes you ashamed?" Of the general group, 7 percent said it was "guns, death and violence," while 44 percent of the Arab American children gave that answer.
In a panel at the press club of children who had responded to the survey, a 13-year-old Arab American girl named Nada, said she had lost seven friends after Sept. 11 because their parents told them to stay away from her.
Still, most children surveyed did not indicate anti-Arab American sentiment.
When the boys in the general survey were asked to select a name from a list of "Who would make a good American citizen?" "John" was chosen by 29 percent, "Ahmad" by 6 percent, "Jamal" and "Carlos" by 5 percent each and "Yoshi" by 3 percent. Forty-eight percent said all of them would make a good citizen.
Susan Royer, who directed the survey, said all three phases of the study included some "eternal truths," including that home is a safe place, even more now than before, with an increasing need for the physical presence and support of parents and extended family.
Other findings include:
* Kids are more worried about everyday violence than they are about war or terrorism. They worry they are not safe in their own world.
* Children are showing an increased sense of patriotism.
* Kids are not little adults and have different fears and different ways of dealing with them.
* Television remains a powerful influence, both in raising children's fears when news is unfiltered, and in reducing them when parents watch with kids and when programs are carefully selected. Children were much more likely to be anxious about guns, death and violence if there was a television in their bedroom or if they watched or read the news on a regular basis.
The survey was conducted by giving books of questions to about 100 children in 15 communities around the country. The 6-to-8-year-olds were asked to answer questions and draw pictures. The 9-to-11-year-olds were also given disposable cameras so they could photograph things important to them. No interviewers were involved and parents were asked to let their children complete the survey alone.
Royer says that while the sample size is small, she has seen remarkable consistency in the responses through each of the three surveys.
The survey was not designed to produce large-scale quantitative results, she said, but rather to be a broad, representative study.
When asked where and with whom they felt safest, the children most frequently photographed or drew their own homes or family members. When asked to name a person who was a hero to them, 48 percent said their choice was because that person "takes care of me."
In the survey conducted two weeks after Sept. 11, 17 percent of 6-to-8-year-olds mentioned the attacks; in the one the next May, only 1 percent did. Among 9- to 11-year-olds, 65 percent mentioned the attacks in the September survey, while 35 percent did in the most recent study.
And when asked why home is the safe place, 75 percent answered because "nothing bad" happens there.