The Impact of 9/11 on Children 20 Years Later

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As America marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11, it’s important to recognize its effects on a generation of individuals, now adults, that were children when it happened.

Longitudinal studies of the “children of 9/11” document that not only the 3,051 that lost parents that day have been seriously affected. For example, a study* of 844 children who were below Canal Street when the towers fell and were either eyewitnesses or were in the dust after the collapse had higher rates of psychiatric disorders, physical disorders, and comorbidities than a control group of 491 children from Queens, who were close enough to see intense media coverage but were not in direct physical danger.

Time has healed us some, and a new gleaming tower stands where the old ones fell, but no amount of gravel or grit can fill the hole in our hearts. Twenty years is a long time. Twenty years is nothing at all. If you ask a mother, a father, brother, sister, aunt or uncle who lost someone that day, 9/11 just happened yesterday.**

Some of the children of 9/11 have channeled their grief in positive ways. Delaney Colaio, who was three in 2001, lost her dad and two uncles that day. A documentary she worked on called "We Go Higher" interviewed 70 kids who also lost parents. In 2017 she said, "It's a healing process for us and for other people to see that no matter what tragedy brings in your life, that you can write your own story and you don't have to let that event define you," she said. “People hear 9/11 and think tragedy…They look at the 9/11 kids and see tragedy. It is a tragedy. But we want people to look at us now and see hope. People don’t know that we are OK. People don’t know that we are thriving. But we are."

The events of 9/11 have shaped a generation, impacting, to various degrees, their mental health. As 76% of lifetime mental health issues begin in adolescence, we have yet to see the full effects of that day.

* Amsel L, Cheslak-Postava K, Musa G, et al. The broad impact of childhood trauma: physical-psychiatric comorbidity in a cohort of individuals exposed to 9/11 in childhood. Presented 5/2019

** Leonard Greene, NY Daily News, 9/5/2021

*** Adam Gerace, Ph.D., Psychology Today

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