The National Child Traumatic Stress Network advises that domestic violence poses a serious threat to children’s emotional, psychological and physical well-being, especially if the violence is long-standing. Children who live with domestic violence are also at risk to become direct victims of child abuse.
The reactions of children to domestic violence are similar to reactions of other traumatic stressors and may manifest in a variety of symptoms.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and this week’s article takes a look at the children involved in such situations.
Some of the short-term effects of domestic violence on children may include generalized anxiety, sleeplessness, nightmares, difficulty in concentrating, high activity levels, and increased levels of aggression.
As with other types of trauma children’s responses to domestic violence may vary with their age and developmental stage. Little ones under the age of 5 may exhibit withdrawal, and pronounced separation anxiety, and as well as sleep disruptions and eating disruptions.
Children ages 6 to 11 may manifest their anxiety by increased truancy, and emotional numbing, whereas children 12 to 18 may exhibit anti-social behavior, school failure, substance abuse, truancy, running away, involvement in violent or abuse relationships, depression and withdrawal.
Children may have cognitive distortions or misunderstandings about what is happening in their home life. They may blame themselves, blame the victimized parent or partner, or blame the police or other authorities who attempt to intervene.
Many shelters and domestic violence service agencies offer psycho-educational support for children. This can be an important tool in helping children stabilize and recognize that they are not alone in their fears and worries. Sometimes the interventions include group therapy, individual counseling, and treatment with the victimized (non-offending) parent.
An essential part of the treatment for children is a strengthening of the relationship between the non-offending parent and the child.
For most children, this is a pivotal part of treatment because children often feel torn between their parents and confused by feelings of love and fear for the violent parent. The therapy helps children make sense to correct misconceptions and lessen the child’s conflicts.
Adolescents may become involved in domestic violence not only as witnesses to abuse between their parents but also in perpetuating violence in their own relationships. Much data indicates that adolescents are at higher risk of being involved in violent relationship than adults.
Especially noteworthy is that females ages 16 to 24 are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence than females in any other age group. Cognitive misconceptions allow teens to think jealousy, possessiveness and violence are signs that their partner loves them.
Surveys indicate that 50 percent of high school girls and 75 percent of high school boys think that forced sex is acceptable in some circumstances. Further, almost 20 percent of teen-aged girls who have been in a relationship, report that a boyfriend has threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a break-up.
Teen dating violence is also associated with higher levels of substance abuse, as well as lower achievement in school.
Victims of dating violence display a strong consistent pattern of participation in high-risk behaviors including unhealthy weight control, risky sexual behaviors and suicidal ideation according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
Many parents are uninformed about dating violence and teens rarely report such behavior because they may believe that it is a normal part of a relationship. Talking to your teen about such issues can open a path of protection.
The first and most important intervention for children is to address their need for safety. Legal advocacy, shelters, and domestic violence service agencies are good resources for addressing the challenges of safety and helping the abused members and their children feel safe and develop a sense of control so that they feel less vulnerable.
Please turn into my TV show every week day at 6 a.m., noon and six p.m., Community Camera on Channel 54 cable Ho’ike TV. In October, you will learn more about domestic violence and its effects on children in my interview with Melissa Montgomery of Hale Kipa. Aloha nui loa.
Dr. Jane Riley, EdD., is a certified personal fitness trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at email@example.com, 212-8119 cell/text and www.janerileyfitness.com