BEIRUT: Lebanese adolescents who witness violence or are injured in war are likely to emerge tougher and more resilient, according to the results of a new study examining the impact of the 2006 war.
The findings, which show how family and upbringing can lead teenagers to better handle the fallout from violence, could have an impact on how children are treated for psychological trauma in the aftermath of war.
Rana Tayara, a lecturer in psychology at Lebanese American University who carried out the study, said her inspiration to look into the reaction to the war among adolescents stemmed from her own experience witnessing conflicts and the wide gulf in the perception of the war among different factions in Lebanon.
“You had people that thought about it as a heroic event [and] people who thought of it as something that did not make sense to them and there was no need to go into it,” she said.
Tayara collected information from teenagers between 12 and 18 years old who experienced the 2006 war. She gathered data between 2008 and 2009 on the war experience and resiliency of 149 teenagers in Beirut, 140 in South Lebanon, 124 in North Lebanon and 136 in the Bekaa Valley.
In 2006, some parts of Lebanon escaped unscathed while Shiite areas, seen as strongholds of Hezbollah, suffered under the Israeli bombing.
Tayara found that teenagers who had certain war experiences showed greater resiliency and were better able to cope with stress and anxiety later in life.
In the study published in the International Journal of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences, Tayara investigated the impact of war on “resilience” – the ability of youths to cope with stress, be self-reliant and move on with their lives after conflict.
Resilience was measured by assessing multiple factors including emotional control, empathy and sensitivity.
The war experiences that Tayara examined spanned the spectrum from loss, which includes death of a loved one or displacement from home, to involvement in war, whether active or passive, such as witnessing shelling.
Teenagers who experienced the loss of a loved one suffered, while those who were injured or witnessed violence showed greater resiliency after the war.
Tayara’s findings confirmed some long-standing beliefs held by scientists who study the impact of war: Cultural background and environment have much to do with how adolescents cope with violence.
For instance, she said, children were able to cope better if they were surrounded by a community that saw war as having a cause. Religion can also provide a measure of relief.
Adolescents in Tripoli, where more people considered the 2006 war pointless, were more likely to be traumatized by it than teenagers in south Beirut.
The differences serve to highlight Lebanon’s sharp political and religious divisions. Hezbollah and its allies portrayed the fight against Israel as bolstering the resistance and the end result as a “divine victory,” while others criticized the war as reckless adventurism.
Tayara said strong family ties were a powerful factor in protecting youths.
“When your father and grandfather have been through war, they’re going to provide you with a certain sense of comfort regarding the war, that it’s okay, it just happens,” she said.
“It becomes part of our daily routine, unfortunately.”
The findings have an impact on therapy for adolescents, as they call for a greater focus on strengthening family bonds and teaching independence and emotional control.
Tayara lists several examples that illustrate her point on political divisions. She recalled an incident when she was a counselor called in to a kindergarten class where she found a group of children who were all Future Movement supporters refusing to play with one classmate because his family supported Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement.
Tayara said the incident and the results of her study were indicative of a Lebanese tendency to identify with religious or political affiliation rather than national identity.
As a result of these variations in the experience of war, Tayara found that on average Muslims showed more resiliency after war than Christians and Shiites were even more resilient than Sunnis.
“This is not due to the actual religious sect, it is due to what they have been through,” she said.