Domestic violence is a topic that recently has been in the spotlight. From Chris Brown’s assault on then-girlfriend Rhianna or to the recent accusation against Floyd Mayweather it is a topic that people are starting to talk about. These very public incidents perpetrated by celebrities brought a very taboo subject into the mainstream. There are many conversations and studies that have happened in regards to domestic violence (DV). One topic that has had more light shone on it is the long and short term effects of domestic violence on children and adolescents.
There are many theories on what kind of effects DV can have on children and adolescents. Lundy Bancroft is one of the leading psychologist working in the movement of DV. In one of his books, he proposes many theories as to what effects can be had on children and adolescents. In this book, Bancroft states that, “Children exposed to domestic violence are more aggressive with peers” (Bancroft 2012). While doing research this was a theory that was found among other psychologists and researchers. Bancroft goes on to talk about why he sees this in children that have lived with a batterer.
Another proposed effect that can have long-term outcomes is social relationship problems. In an article titled The Effects of Child Abuse and Exposure to Domestic Violence on Adolescent Internalizing and Externalizing Behavior Problems done by Carrie A. Moylan and colleagues they believe that children who have grown up in a household with domestic violence “are more likely to experience a wide range of adverse psychosocial and behavioral outcomes” (Moylan et al, 2011). These behaviors can lead to many adverse relationships with peers as well as extended isolation.
A third effect that has been studied is the effect on the relationship that the child or adolescent has with the offending or non-offending parent. "Witnessing and experiencing domestic violence: a descriptive study of adolescents" is a study that was done by Sari Lepsito, Tiina Luukkaala and Eija Paavilainen out of Norway. This study highlights the relationships during and after the offense has happened.
Other possible outcomes of being exposed to domestic violence are long term mental health battles, problems in school, hard time seeking and maintain healthy relationships. The above mentioned effects, as well as these, will be mentioned in this paper.
Prior to current research being done on the effect of domestic violence on children and adolescents the carrying idea was ‘kids are resilient, they’ll be okay’. This is clearly not the case adolescents and especially children are like little sponges; they soak up what is going on around them. Kids are not given enough credit. They see what is happening to the people that they love. Another societal view was that it was the non-offending parent's fault for what happened to them and their children. This is now seen as not entirely true. Systems and societies are now seeing that the non-offending parent does what they need to keep themselves and their children safe.
If society views are taken into account, then we can also see the outside influences that also have an effect. Cultural norms, religious beliefs socioeconomic status can play a part in the effects and outcomes of the effect of domestic violence on adolescents and children. These can affect development in a variety of ways and if you add growing up in a household with domestic violence the effects are even greater. If a person is living in a family that beliefs divorce is not okay they are going to be exposed to the violence longer and the effect can only increase.
During childhood and adolescence individuals are going through many biological changes and development. Individuals brains are growing and changing rapidly and drastically during this time. If exposed to violence during this time individuals risk having delayed growth and brain development. Simply put if the non-offending parent is constantly worrying about keeping themselves or their children safe they are not going to be overly concerned with proper nutrition or nurturing healthy growth. In a study done by Carolina Overlien, she interviewed children and adolescents that had grown up around domestic violence. One child highlighted her mother’s concern for safety of herself by saying “Yes, and then he let go, mom went to the bathroom and stayed there, and my sister and I just trembled and trembled” (Overlien, 2012). It can be seen here that many times the concern is safety development can take a back seat when physical safety is threatened on a regular basis.
While brains are physically changing at this point there is a lot of cognitive development that is happening as well. Exposure to domestic violence radically effects this development. Between the ages of 12-18 children and adolescents are starting to form healthy coping skills, questioning what is going on around them and being able to talk about it with supportive parents, and start to think about long-term outcomes and what they value. All of this can be impacted by domestic violence. In a study done by Moylan et al, “girls were found to be at increased risk for both internalizing and externalizing behavior problems” (Moylan et all, 2011). An example of an internalized behavior problem could be highly restricting or monitoring what they eat. Whereas an externalized problem could be self-injuring. These problems can also effect the development of healthy coping skills. The may not reach out to a safe peer or adult because they are unaware of what will happen if they talk about what is happening at home, instead, they look to things that they themselves can control to make them feel better.
Social-emotional development may suffer the biggest impact in children exposed to domestic violence. They are just as much a victim as the non-offending parent is. Bancroft et al states that:
“The typical response in victims of abuse is to feel thankful for the kindness, to be eager to forgive, and to form a belief that the abuser actually cares deeply for him or her. Once this cycle has been repeated a number of times, the victim may come to feel grateful to the abuser just for stopping the abuse each time” (Bancroft et al, 2012)
Children typically feel a strong connection with the offending parent because the non-offending parent has been made to look like the ‘bad guy’. This can translate to other relationships in their life because they do not have a clear example of ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
It can also affect how they choose to interact with their peers. Children and adolescents model the behaviors of the adults and role models in their lives. If they see unhealthy behaviors in the relationship of their parents or guardians, they may be likely to model that same behavior themselves or think that they need to accept that treatment against them.
If children (under the age of twelve) are exposed to domestic violence it is going to have a great influence on their development and behavior during adolescence. Moylan et al says that, “Exposure to domestic violence in childhood has been linked to a similar set of outcomes, including low self-esteem, social withdrawal, depression and anxiety” (Moylan et al, 2010). There is some normality in the idea of a sullen teenager but prolonged exposure can create lasting serious outcomes in adolescents. For the most part, teenagers want friends. Exposure to DV can impact the way they relate to peers, how the function around other people and the coping skills that they develop to help handle life situations.
Erikson has eight stages of psychosocial development but five of them span the years of children and adolescent development; trust vs mistrust, autonomy vs shame, initiative vs guilt, industry vs inferiority, identity vs role confusion. A typical path of a healthily developing child and adolescent will be able to establish who they can trust, that it is good to be themselves, knowing what is acceptable for them to do, that they will be able to function in the world around them and finally establish a clear sense of identity. Being exposed to domestic violence can negatively impact all of these stages. It can be difficult to figure out who they can trust, they can have a hard time toilet training and figuring out what is okay and what is not acceptable in their household, they can have a decreased sense of being able to navigate the world around them, and a difficult time navigating social relationships.
The idea of resiliency and children and adolescents being able to just ‘bounce back’ is slowly changing. It is now becoming clear that incidents during this time frame can have effects well into adulthood. It was also a well-accepted convention that children or an adolescent would just grow out of ‘it’. Now it has become well received that witnessing domestic violence needs methods or therapy and healing well into the adult years.
During adolescence teenagers are expected to start figuring out what they want to be, who they are and where they are going to go with their lives. Living with and being exposed to domestic violence can hinder this development. If mental health wellness and development is looked at Evans et al states that, “this connection comes from findings that children who have been exposed to domestic violence score on higher on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) scales” (Evans et al, 2008). PTSD is something that is carried into adulthood and while it is managed it never really goes away fully. It can impact holding down an intimate relationship as well as peer relationship, functioning at a job, or performing well in school. Domestic violence exposure is carried with an individual well into their adult life.
As it can be seen exposure to domestic violence can have immediate and long term effects on a child or adolescent’s development. They may excel in school but not be able to maintain positive relationships with peers. Younger children may begin to exhibit the aggressive tendencies of the offending parents or they may completely isolate and not form relationships at all. It is impossible to say that there is one effect that is going to happen to a child or an adolescent. Just like all children and situations are unique so are the effects that might happen. It is very specific to the individual.
Exposure to domestic violence: A meta-analysis of child and adolescent outcomes is a study and article done by Sarah E. Evans, Corrie Davies and David DiLilo. In their study they looked at very broad outcomes and effects. Evans states there is a significant, “relationship between childhood exposure to domestic violence and internalizing and externalizing problems in children” (Evan et al 2008). This one statement perfectly summarizes the effects of domestic violence. The outcomes can be just as different as the children involved.
Going forward there is research being done about what works best to help children and adolescents coming out of living with a batterer. While it is important to understand the short and long term effects of DV it is almost more important to know what is being done to help kids repair and move forward from being exposed to domestic violence. There is also research being done on how the non-offending parent can repair their relationship as well as support their children going forward.
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