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Scared at home : a child-centred perspective on adolescent child fears and anxiety in the family context.

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Children experience a multitude fears during their childhood. Fear is a normal part of children‟s development and is essential for their survival (Gullone, 2000; Nicastro & Whetsell, 1999). However, globally and in South Africa, children are exposed to high levels of violence and adversity resulting in fears which go beyond those that are considered to be a normal part of their development and which affect their daily functioning (Seedat et al., 2009). The bulk of previous research has employed fear surveys to explore children‟s fears. Self-report surveys have been criticised over the years as children tend to respond to fear evoked by hypothetical fears listed in fear schedules rather than by actual exposure to fears (Burkhardt, 2007). A scarcity of data exists regarding the actual fears experienced by children. The aim of the current study was to gain a child-centred perspective on normative childhood fears experienced in the context of the home. Bronfenbrenner‟s Ecological Systems theory was used as the theoretical framework and a quantitative research design was employed. The study was conducted amongst 312 adolescents at schools in the North West province. Random stratified sampling was used in order to ensure that the sample represented the target population of adolescent children in the North West province. Participants had a mean age of 14.8 years. The majority of the participants were black Africans, female, and in Grade 7. The data were collected using a one page questionnaire consisting of two open-ended questions and one closed question. The participants were asked to identify the scariest thing that had happened to them during the past year in their homes and to rate the intensity of the fear using a Likert scale. They were also asked what, in their opinion, could be implemented to make them feel safer. Data analysis was conducted using content analysis and the responses were coded according to Hobfoll‟s (1998) Conservation of Resources theory. The findings indicate that 80% of the participants had experienced a fearful event in their homes during the past year. The most frequent and the most intense fears related to the loss, or the threat of loss, of resources necessary for basic survival. The most common fear manifestations related to vicarious, direct, and ambient interpersonal trauma and disputes amongst family members. These findings are in accordance with Hobfoll‟s (1998) Conservation of Resources theory which proposes that threats to resources required for basic survival will result in stress, fear and anxiety. The death of significant people, mainly parents, in the adolescents‟ life resulted in the most intense fears. The majority of the participants indicated that attempts to ensure their safety should come from within their family. No significant age or gender differences were evident. Although the fear manifestations differed, the findings in the current study are in accordance with the broad findings of previous research where the most common and the most intense fears have related to death and danger.


M.A. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 2013.


Children and violence--South Africa., School violence--South Africa., Abused children--South Africa., Anxiety in adolescence -- South Africa., Family violence--South Africa., Theses -- Psychology.