From the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina to Rwanda and now in Syria, children have always been the forgotten casualties of war. The toll that war can take, however, is not always physical on children and the deepest cut is not always left on the outside, but carried forever in the hearts and minds of children. The newly coined “lost generation” of the Syrian Civil War, who are being left with longer lasting emotional scars, has the potential to be exactly that in the future…a lost generation without a home to truly call their own.
Their “home,” in a sense, is not the physical place to call their own; rather, it is an emotional state of being, one deemed to be tarnished moving forward. Any physical “home” they will have from now on can never be the same. The people they have lost in their short life spans are not ones that can be easily forgotten about or casually swept under a rug. These are brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, grandparents, cousins; the list goes on and on. They all make up an integral part of the family dynamic, each one interconnected to each other, and bound by more than just blood.
The family systems theory is a theory first introduced by Dr. Murray Bowen explaining that a person cannot be explained individually, and are defined by the system to which they are born and raised in to. Every part, every person, and every piece of this unique system is interconnected and interdependent upon the other where each individual member affects the next member’s emotions, feelings, thoughts and actions. It is in this theory that can help explain how the traumatic events of war can lead to such potential damaging futures for the “lost generation.”
The trauma of the Syrian Civil War will leave lasting scars and time can never heal them. Culturally speaking, the role of family and each individual’s dynamic and interdependence can vary with age, sex, birth order, etc., but there is always one constant between cultures and that is the role of parents. Often times, the most traumatic event for children in war, especially younger children, can be the loss or separation of/from their parents. In an interview with Express, the mother of a child named Aladdin living through the Syrian Civil War had this troubling statement:
“He cries all night. He is scared of everything and is afraid when we leave him, even for a second.”
In war, children often tend to try to repress feelings and bad memories rather than confront them. But many researchers believe it is this repression that can cause the most psychological damage and leave the longest lasting trauma. Having the ability and resources to talk and to express their bad memories and suffering with the support of an empathetic and informed adult is a must to their recovery. Also often in times of war, a child or adolescent, whether it be a brother or sister, will shoulder the burden of responsibility for the distress of others in the family. When this happens, the child (more often an adolescent) will literally absorb all of the stress incurred around him/her in order to reduce tension in others. This “absorption” is often what can lead to future alcoholism, depression, affairs and physical illnesses.
Adolescents in war are frequently the most “at risk” for future problems because they recognize what is going on in the world around them. If they are the older siblings during the time of war, they tend to naturally take more of a leadership role and can, try to shoulder too much responsibility, leaving unrealistic expectations of them. Adolescents are going through many physical and emotional changes in their lives and during this tumultuous time, not living up to these unrealistic expectations can lead to the most psychological damage. During the Bosnia and Herzegovina war, aid workers had encountered many adolescents that were having ‘weeping crises’, suicide attempts, depression, and increased levels of aggression and delinquency.
In all of this pain and suffering, trauma and loss of family, the Syrian civil war is leaving longer lasting scars than just physical, but there still is hope. In a piece written for NBC News, Saye-Maye Cole, a child survivor of two Liberian civil wars, had this to say to the child survivors of the Syrian Civil War:
“Never give up (and) do everything to protect yourself… You can still make a comeback the day the war is over. You can still become somebody.”
Having the right sources available for the “forgotten generation” after this Syrian Civil War will be paramount for the future health and well-being of these children. Time may never heal the scars left by war, but there are treatment options, there is still hope and there are life lessons to be learned and used. These children are survivors, people will hear the story of the “forgotten generation,” people will learn from their story and the survivors will live on… and no one can ever take that away from them.
By Ryne Vyles