Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Adolescent Refugees’ Judgments of Harm in War and Resettlement Contexts

  • Author(s): Teja, Zuhra
  • Advisor(s): Turiel, Elliot
  • et al.

Protracted wars in the Middle East have forced millions of people to flee and resettle in Western countries. Adolescents might be most affected by their war and resettlement experiences, yet have received limited attention in developmental research. The purpose of the current study was to determine how younger (12-14-year-olds) and older (17-19-year-olds) adolescent refugees from Syria make judgments about harm in unprovoked and provoked situational contexts. Fifty-nine newcomer Syrian adolescent refugees (30 boys and 29 girls) living in Canada were interviewed about straightforward and complex situations involving harm (i.e., hitting). All participants provided negative evaluations of harm in response to general questions and almost all stated that there should be a law against hitting. The majority of evaluations were stable, meaning not contingent on parental authority, school rules, or common societal practice. All participants in the baseline (unprovoked) condition, and almost all participants in the survival condition provided negative evaluations of harm in Syrian war and Canadian resettlement contexts. The majority of participants provided negative evaluations of harm in retribution conditions, and a small but significant proportion evaluated harm as less acceptable in the resettlement context than in the war context. Negative evaluations elicited moral justifications (i.e., welfare, equality), whereas positive evaluations elicited nonmoral justifications (i.e., personal, authority/rules, and retaliation). The Canadian resettlement context elicited more authority/rules considerations than did the Syrian war context. Younger adolescents were significantly more likely than older adolescents to justify negative evaluations based on authority/rules. Older adolescents were more likely than younger adolescents to provide mixed evaluations for retribution conditions. Significant gender differences were not found. Cultural considerations, social and educational implications, and future directions are discussed.

Main Content
Current View