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Children's thinking in the wake of Challenger
Am J Psychiatry 1997;154:744-751.
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Abstract

OBJECTIVE: The Challenger spacecraft explosion in 1986 offered an opportunity to study the thinking of normal children after a sudden and distant disaster, differences in thinking among children of different levels of emotional concern and different ages, and changes in their thinking over time. METHOD: The authors studied six thinking patterns known to characterize childhood posttraumatic stress disorder and four additional hypothesized patterns in 153 randomly selected children of Concord, N.H. (who watched the explosion on television) and Porterville, Calif. (who heard about it later). They compared the structured-interview responses of the more involved (East Coast) and less involved (West Coast) children, of the latency-age children and the adolescents, and of the children initially (5-7 weeks after the explosion) and 14 months later. RESULTS: The children exhibited the 10 predictable thinking patterns. They initially defended themselves, denying the reality of the explosion. They later fantasized about it. They tried to cope by seeking additional information on their own, at home, and at school. Most children talked about Challenger, but a minority of the latency-age youngsters avoided related talk and thoughts. The adolescents experienced more paranormal thinking, philosophical changes, and negative attitudes. Over the year, omens, paranormal experiences, and Challenger-based fantasies tended to disappear, but negative views about institutions and the world's future held steady or increased. CONCLUSIONS: The children's thinking followed predictable patterns. A higher degree of emotional involvement (East Coast children) was strongly linked to these thinking patterns, as was being an adolescent. Distant disasters appear to set up commonalities of thought that might come to characterize certain generations of children.

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