Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 704–719 | Cite as

Caregiver-reported Positive Changes in Young Survivors of a Terrorist attack

  • Kristin Alve GladEmail author
  • Ryan P. Kilmer
  • Grete Dyb
  • Gertrud S. Hafstad
Original Paper


Self-reported positive change in the aftermath of trauma has been the focus of numerous studies, and the literature regarding posttraumatic growth (PTG, positive change resulting from the struggle with trauma) has grown meaningfully in the last decade. However, limited research has described behaviors associated with these positive changes, or documented reports of such changes by people in the survivor’s immediate social network. We sought to extend the extant research by exploring caregivers’ observed positive changes in youth and emerging adults exposed to a terrorist attack and detailing the nature of these changes. As part of a large-scale, longitudinal study of survivors of the terrorist attack at Norway’s Utøya Island, 284 caregivers (62.3% females, M age = 47.23 years, SD = 5.79) were asked whether they had observed any positive changes in their youth 2.5 years post-terror and, if so, if they could provide examples of these changes from their daily life. Caregivers’ statements were systematically coded and analyzed using thematic analysis. Most caregivers (64%) reported that they had observed positive post-trauma changes in their youth, and the dimensions described largely align with findings from the existing PTG literature. The caregivers most commonly described relational and personal changes in their children, including a stronger bond with family (e.g., more expressed affection); heightened compassion (e.g., greater interpersonal sensitivity); and greater maturity (e.g., increased reflectiveness). These findings suggest that PTG is an observable phenomenon among youth and emerging adults exposed to terror, and the rich examples of positive behavioral changes support the validity of the PTG construct.


Posttraumatic growth Trauma Terrorism Youth Caregivers 



This effort was made possible through the support of the Norwegian Extra Foundation for Health and Rehabilitation and the Norwegian Council for Medical Health, for which the authors express their gratitude. We also sincerely thank the caregivers who participated in this study.

Author contributions

K.A.G. collaborated with the design of the study and acquisition of the data, analyzed the data, and wrote the manuscript. R.P.K. contributed to the grant proposal that supported this work, collaborated with the interpretation of the data and their implications and the preparation and revision of the manuscript. G.D. is PI of the Utøya study and was responsible for the acquisition of the data, collaborated with the design of the study, and took part in the editing of the final manuscript. G.S.H. wrote the grant proposal that supported this work, collaborated with the design of the study, acquisition of the data, coded parts of the data, and revised and edited the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethics Statement

The work described here and all procedures involving human participants were in accordance with the standards for Ethical Principles of Psychologists, as put forth by the American Psychological Association, as well the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The study was approved by the Regional Committee for Medical and Health Research Ethics in Norway, and participants provided written informed consent.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress StudiesOsloNorway
  2. 2.University of North Carolina at CharlotteCharlotteUSA
  3. 3.University of Oslo, Institute of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of MedicineOsloNorway

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