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June 1972

The Concept of Death in Midwestern Children and Youth

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Pediatrics, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha.

Am J Dis Child. 1972;123(6):527-532. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1972.02110120051001

Views of causes, images, and finality of death of 598 children, ages 5 to 18 years, were obtained by structured interview at church schools and clinic. The "why" of death was most affected by socioeconomic status; death as due to violence was seen most often by clinic children. The idea of what happens to the body after death was rarely terrifying, but more realism was tolerated for pets than for self. By ages 13 to 16, 20% still thought that when dead they would be cognizant, 60% envisioned spiritual continuation, and 20% saw death as total cessation. Those with frequent thoughts of suicide most often denied death as final. Increasing age and religious training extended children's view of the significance of life beyond simple existence, but only one of 598 considered its import to be biosocial immortality.