University of Cincinnati researchers are reporting what they call a significant pattern among Iraqi adolescents and their reaction to the war in Iraq - the higher the perceived threat of the war, the higher the teens reported their self-esteem. The findings - from a 2004 survey of 1,000 Iraqi adolescents in 10 neighborhoods in Baghdad - are reported in the current issue of the Journal of Adolescence.
Steve Carlton-Ford, a University of Cincinnati associate professor and co-author of the study, says the findings give a rare look at the impact of war on adolescents, explaining that, in general, sociologists and psychologists are examining how war affects small children. Carlton-Ford adds that in the cases of young children, conflict-related events typically lower a child's psychological well-being. The survey of Iraqi teens was conducted in 2004 by co-author Morton Ender of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, who supervised field surveys with the U.S. Army in the neighborhoods surrounding Baghdad. The study is also authored by UC doctoral student Ahoo Tabatabai.
The authors found that despite obvious threat to the adolescents' sense of security, the youth were coping fairly well in 2004, with self-esteem levels comparable to that of Palestinian youth. "In the presence of conflict-related trauma one generally observes lower levels of psychological well-being (e.g., PTSD, grief reactions), and sometimes lower self-esteem," write the authors. "Our results, however, are consistent with a body of theory and research that predicts self-esteem striving and higher self-esteem among the individuals who face indirect threats to central components of their social identities (rather than directly facing traumatic war-related events). In other words, in a situation where we observe a broad social context involving the presence of foreign forces ( a clear violation of Muslim principles) combined with general violence throughout Baghdad and Iraq, we also observe a heightened sense of self, at least to the extent that one's self is tied to one's nation."
The study suggests future surveys of adolescents under conditions of armed conflict to track their self-concept as they become young adults.