Topic: Disasters, terror and stress management

Caregiver-reported positive changes in young survivors of a terrorist attack

Glad, K. A., Kilmer, R. P., Dyb, G., & Hafstad, G. S. (2019). Caregiver-reported positive changes in young survivors of a terrorist attack. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 28(3), 704-719. doi:10.1007/s10826-018-1298-7

Most caregivers (64%) reported that they had observed positive post-trauma changes in their youth who had survived the attack on Utøya in 2011. The dimensions described largely align with findings from the existing PTG literature.

Self-reported positive change in the aftermath of trauma has been the focus of numerous studies, and the literature regarding posttraumatic growth (PTG, positive change resulting from the struggle with trauma) has grown meaningfully in the last decade. However, limited research has described behaviors associated with these positive changes, or documented reports of such changes by people in the survivor’s immediate social network. We sought to extend the extant research by exploring caregivers’ observed positive changes in youth and emerging adults exposed to a terrorist attack and detailing the nature of these changes. As part of a large-scale, longitudinal study of survivors of the terrorist attack at Norway’s Utøya Island, 284 caregivers (62.3% females, M age = 47.23 years, SD = 5.79) were asked whether they had observed any positive changes in their youth 2.5 years post-terror and, if so, if they could provide examples of these changes from their daily life. Caregivers’ statements were systematically coded and analyzed using thematic analysis. Most caregivers (64%) reported that they had observed positive post-trauma changes in their youth, and the dimensions described largely align with findings from the existing PTG literature. The caregivers most commonly described relational and personal changes in their children, including a stronger bond with family (e.g., more expressed affection); heightened compassion (e.g., greater interpersonal sensitivity); and greater maturity (e.g., increased reflectiveness). These findings suggest that PTG is an observable phenomenon among youth and emerging adults exposed to terror, and the rich examples of positive behavioral changes support the validity of the PTG construct.

The Researchers