For a long time, it was believed that as long as children and teens are not actively a part of family violence, then they are relatively safe from psychological harm. However, within the past 10 years, it has become clear that simply witnessing violence can have detrimental effects on a teen’s psychological well being. This article will explore just how severe the effects of domestic violence can be on teens who experience domestic violence between their parents.
Domestic Violence in Families
Domestic Violence is physical aggression that takes place between intimate partners. It can have severe effects on one or both individuals involved in the relationship, and detrimental effects on the developing minds of any children or teens in the home. Typically, domestic violence includes one partner using control, manipulation, and fear to have power over the other partner. In many cases, the dynamics that build up in violent relationships are passed down from generation to generation, and many couples don’t even know they are caught in a cycle of violence.
Over time, domestic violence develops into a cycle, one that typically becomes more and more violent. The violence may not appear to have any patterns to outsiders or even to those in the relationship. Yet, experts have identified three stages in the cycle of violence between partners. These phases are:
Phase 1: Tension Building: During this initial phase, the relationship experiences increasing amounts of tension. There’s a breakdown in communication, fear is increasing, and the victim will do his/her best to appease the abuser.
Phase 2: Abuse: The tension explodes into an abusive incident in which there is anger, blame, rage that gets expressed through emotional, physical, or verbal abuse.
Phase 3: Reconciliation/Calm: The abuser apologizes for his/her actions, gives excuses, blames the victim, or claims that the abuse was not all that bad. The abuse is forgotten and a honeymoon period begins again.
This cycle typically repeats over and over again, each time becoming more intense. For some families, domestic violence can lead to death of a partner.
Although it’s easy to think of a male and female being involved in domestic violence, with the male as the perpetrator, the cycle of violence can exist between all types of partners. For instance, violence can exist among gay couples, siblings, parents and children, roommates, and even friends. Similarly, although the stereotypical image of domestic violence includes a male as the aggressor and the female as the victim, the cycle of abuse doesn’t necessarily always follow this pattern. There are many females who can play the abusive role with men play the role of victim.
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The Effects of Domestic Violence in the Home
As mentioned above, if there are children or teens in the home, the effects of domestic violence on the them can be debilitating. Domestic violence is often experienced by children and teens as a traumatic event. In fact, experts have found that witnessing violence can have just as severe effects as actually experiencing it. To make matters worse, domestic violence is not a one-time traumatic event, such as a car accident or a death of a loved one. Instead, because domestic violence is reoccurring, those witnessing it are exposed to chronic traumatic experiences.
Children and teens who witness domestic violence between their parents on a regular basis are at risk for the following:
- Post traumatic stress disorder
- High degrees of stress
- Substance use and addiction
- Truancy and delinquency
- Self-blame and low self-esteem
- Displays of aggression
- Eating disorders
- Trouble with sleeping regularly
- Somatic complaints (headaches, stomachaches, etc.)
More specifically, unlike younger children, teens can begin to externalize their negative emotions through either talking about what’s going on or through their behavior. Most commonly, teens who witness domestic violence will begin to withdraw from social experiences and isolate themselves. They might also become defiant or rebellious at school. Here are other typical signs of teens who experience domestic violence at home:
- Frequent fighting or aggression at school or between siblings
- Lashing out at objects
- Treating pets with cruelty
- Using aggression as a means to gain attention
- Involved in violent intimate relationship themselves
Sadly, female teens who witness violence at home are more likely to withdraw as their predominant behavior and may get missed by the caring adults around them as someone in need of support. Other effects of domestic violence on teens include academic failure, addiction, and general delinquency. Furthermore, research indicates that an estimated 20% to 30% of all teens who are involved in dating relationships are regularly abusing or being abused by their partners verbally, mentally, emotionally, sexually, and/or physically.
How to Help a Teen Affected by Domestic Violence
It’s important to remember that most teens who were raised with violence have been taught not to say anything about what goes on at home. If asked about their relationships at home, they are likely to stay quiet or shut down. Here are two suggestions for assisting a teen who may be having a hard time at home.
1. Talk to a school counselor, teacher, or administrator
In most states, school personnel are mandated reporters, meaning that if they hear about child abuse or endangerment they must report it to the appropriate state agency. However, domestic violence is a gray area and sometimes considered an issue that doesn’t have to be reported. Nonetheless, even if school personnel decide not to report the violence in the home, they can get the school counselor or psychologist involved to help the teen with their emotional or psychological issues.
2. Let teens know you’re there for them
Building a relationship with a teen who is experiencing violence at home can be a great support for them. In fact, when a troubled teen has one caring adult in their life, they are more likely to overcome their challenges, than attempting to face life alone. If a teen begins to open up about what’s happening at home, listen to them in an open, non-judgmental, warm, and authentic way. Don’t pressure teens to say anymore than they want to share. In fact, when a teen opens up to you, it might be a beginning first step to talking about participating in counseling or psychotherapy.
These are two initial suggestions for assisting a teen who is witnessing violence at home. The effects of domestic violence on teens can be severe, particularly because they are still developing. If possible, both teens as well as parents should get professional psychological support in order to end the violence and heal family relationships.