We Need to Care About the Emotional Trauma of Syria’s Children

Children are our future unless of course, we’re talking about children in some far-away country we’ll never visit.

We in America discuss the Syrian Civil War with something like detachment. However, for the Syrians themselves and especially for the children fleeing this war-ravaged country, the conflict is anything but abstract. The psychological impact on the children of Syria is beyond tragic and cannot be overlooked.

An Entire Generation Affected

It’s difficult to even comprehend, but as of August 2016, more than 13.5 million Syrians need humanitarian relief thanks to the civil war that has engulfed their native country. As the United States finds itself at cross-purposes with Russia and other countries in the region, a whole other demographic is going nearly unnoticed Syrian children.

One famous photo illustrates that the true costs of war are often much subtler than the visible destruction. Syrian children have been separated from their families and scattered to the winds, finding brief respites either in protected zones throughout Syria or in refugee camps throughout the developed world. The United States hasn’t settled Syrian refugees on American soil merely out of the milk of human kindness we’ve done it because the outpouring of refugees from Syria has literally overrun the neighboring countries.

The Devastating Results

Experts refer to this as an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in modern history and unfortunately, that’s not inaccurate.

Aid workers flown to the region describe the conditions in Syria’s bombed-out hospitals as nothing short of nightmarish. The children there suffer from traumas no child should ever have to experience and some of them can’t even eat or speak. Some just stare blankly into the distance, like adult soldiers returning home from war.

They’ve seen things the rest of us can barely imagine, yet they’ve survived and they’ll bear the psychological wounds for years, if not for the rest of their lives.

Folks on the ground, including representatives from Save the Children, go so far as to claim that the repercussions of this civil conflict could cause catastrophic damage to the mental health of an entire generation. Think about that. It’s hard to imagine a higher price tag. In addition to post-traumatic stress disorder and general anxiety, longer-term health problems are also rearing their heads, including prolonged grief disorder and depression.

And that’s to say nothing of all the lost time and opportunities these children will never again have to simply be kids.

The Importance of Childhood

On American soil, we nearly take for granted that letting children engage in playtime is important for their development as human beings. Children are remarkably resilient, and they can overcome both fears and traumas through play and fun experiences.

But when children lose loved ones particularly older siblings or parents their childhood itself is in danger, as they step up to become the guardian or caregiver many years before their time. Supporting refugee children and allowing them to be children again is of the utmost importance. We can help them literally reclaim their youth by returning them to an environment where their minds can wander, and they can explore. They can pursue their interests and feel safe again.

To reach adulthood intact and emotionally functional, developing children require equal parts security and predictability. They need to feel as though they are safe. In Aleppo alone, 300,000 people have found themselves under siege, their lives either effectively on hold or totally destroyed by the fighting and 40 percent of these people are children. If world powers can’t agree on which regime should be in charge in Syria, we should at least be able to agree that these kids deserve something better than this. Syria doesn’t belong to their parents anymore it’s the children who will inherit this rubble.

If the fighting ever does stop, it’s going to take many long years to catalog the emotional and psychological damage being done by this war. Here in America, we convince ourselves we’re cognizant of the long-term costs of warfare, but our behavior does little to prove it. Maybe, thanks to Syria, more folks across the world will have had their fill of war.

Until then, though, the fighting continues and we’re left with thousands and thousands of children without homes or hope. Physically rebuilding Syria will, if you can believe it, be the easy part. But putting these kids back together and conducting massive screenings for mental health? That’s a different type of war altogether.

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