How Does Domestic Violence Affect Teens?

Domestic violence in the home is a widespread epidemic that can affect families of all types and in all socioeconomic brackets. Unfortunately, this type of violence is often kept secret and can go on for years or decades, affecting generation after generation. Marital violence does not only affect the abuser and the one being abused but others in the home as well, particularly the children. As children exposed to violence grow into adolescence, behaviors and issues can emerge. Here are some of the ways that domestic violence affects teens.

Behavioral Issues

Teenagers who have been exposed to violence might become abusive to their parents. It could be toward the abuser or toward the parent who has been being abused. The might also become abusive toward siblings. These teens might get into physical fights and get into trouble with the law. A lot of this stems from their anger and feelings of helplessness; they might also feel guilty for not being able to stop the abuse.

Adolescents from violent homes might also run away. Part of the issue is that they often want to hide what’s happening at home from their peers and others in the community, so they separate themselves as much as they can. Some teenagers are afraid that they are the reason behind the abuse and think that if they leave, the abuse will stop. Others are just so anxious that they cannot cope with being in a toxic home and would prefer to live somewhere (or anywhere) else.

Failure in School

A teen who is coping with domestic violence at home often does not do well in school. They are not able to focus on schoolwork when their parents are fighting. If one parent is hurting the other, they might be very concerned and worried about the parent being abused and not up to finishing homework or studying for tests. Teens might also act belligerently toward their teachers and other people with authoritative positions, causing them to be suspended or even expelled.

Substance Abuse Issues

Teens often turn to substances like drugs and alcohol in an effort to self-medicate for their stress and anger. By using drugs or drinking alcohol, the adolescent finds that they feel better for a little while. This can ultimately lead to an addiction, either during the teen years or later.

Another reason for substance abuse issues is that they might be following the example set by their parents. According to, both heterosexual men who abuse their partners and women who are abused by men make up a significant percentage of the people who seek substance abuse treatment. Children of alcoholics have a four times greater chance than their peers of becoming alcoholics themselves.

Mental Health Issues

Teens who see or hear abuse happening in their home can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is a condition often associated with war veterans, but it can also affect people who witness or who are the victims of violence. It’s been estimated that 13 percent of children who witnessed ongoing domestic violence suffer from PTSD and that 50 percent have some of the signs, such as intrusive thoughts or avoidance.

PTSD is not the only mental health issue that can affect these teens, however. Anxiety disorders, including panic attacks, can be a problem, as can depression. Some teens will develop eating disorders; one reason might be that eating is one of the few things in life that these adolescents can control, and this hyper-control can develop into anorexia, bulimia, or orthorexia. Some teens who have violent family members at home might even become suicidal.

Involvement in Abusive Relationships

One of the unfortunate generational legacies left by domestic violence is a propensity toward more violence. A teenage boy who has witnessed his father or stepfather abusing his mother/stepmother might go on to abuse his girlfriends, dating partners, or wife. A girl who has witnessed this type of domestic violence might go on to become a victim of domestic abuse herself. (Of course, teens of either sex can abuse or be abused; a teenage boy might find himself the victim or a teenage girl might find herself the abuser in a relationship now or later in adulthood.)

It’s not only romantic relationships that might be affected. Teens of domestic abusers might end up abusing their children later; this is particularly true if they were abused themselves. In the shorter term, they might become bullies, abusing and harassing other teens or younger children. They might also assault or batter others in the community and find themselves in juvenile detention or prison at some point.

Helping Teens Affected by Domestic Violence

If you are the parent of a teen and there is domestic violence in your house, the best thing you can do for them is to get help. If you are abusing your partner, seek professional help immediately. If you are being abused, go to the police or to someone in your community who can help. Battered women’s shelters will help female victims of abuse, of course, but they might also have resources available for male victims of abuse.

If you know of a teen in your community who is dealing with domestic violence in the home, encourage him or her to go to the school guidance counselor or someone else in the community who can help. If you suspect that the teen him- or herself is being abused, you can report it to the department in your state that handles these types of complaints.

The best way to stop teens from being affected by domestic violence is to put an end to it. In recent months, it has become more socially acceptable to speak out against domestic violence. Helping a teen in this situation can help him or her break the cycle of generational violence and abuse. Be willing to be the person who steps out and reports violence; it is hard now, but future generations will thank you.