Domestic violence is often overlooked or simplified. People assume children who become exposed to domestic violence only exhibit negative symptoms. Just a couple of decades ago, few had any idea of the impact domestic violence had and continues to have on a child. From growing up and dealing with the pain and/or stigma, to lesser social skills and bad coping mechanisms, the effects of domestic violence on children are clearly visible in some cases while unnoticed in others.
These effects range from severe on one end of the spectrum, to little or no effect on the other. (Due in part to their level of internal or external resiliency) Current research focuses on several areas (1. behavioral and emotional ability, 2. cognitive and coping ability, and 3. long-term issues such as PTSD and depression.) and splits them into categories. (behavioral, emotional, social, cognitive, and mental/physical effects) so as to show the full side of the issue. Whether or not witnessing or being apart of domestic violence increases negative reactions in children may be attributed to level of resiliency.
The bulk of research had internalizing and externalizing behavior as the main focus and found major variations between witnesses and non-witnesses. A broad cross-section of the research examined shows that children often experience multiple or varying symptoms as a result of seeing or being apart of domestic violence. Results over several studies reveal children may exhibit any number of issues from exposure to domestic violence. They may also not present any symptoms by having greater resiliency. Resiliency was shown to play a role in how well children dealt with domestic violence.
Resiliency as read in the literature may be attributed to factors such as environment. This paper sheds light on each category by providing information on children that have witnessed or been in domestic violence situations and how they responded to the exposure. It also identifies more data on symptoms and how children might fit into several or none depending on level of resilience.
Understanding the Effects of Domestic Violence on Children and their level of Resiliency
It has long been known domestic violence that occurs in the home often goes unnoticed. It commonly takes the form of abuse and in some cases no one sees any signs of abuse for years. The ones that suffer from these incidents the most are the children involved. Depending on whether the child witnesses domestic violence or is apart of it, affects how the child displays symptoms in the long run. Thanks to current research, there is a clearer analysis offered to better enable understanding of these signs and ways to help in identifying them.
One of the things discovered through this new research is the realization that not all children are adversely affected by domestic violence. Focus shifted on examining the environmental and physical factors which support children's resilience in spite of their vulnerability to domestic violence. Analysis of the negative effects also provide further aid in updating ways to identify possible psychological disturbances in children concerning domestic violence and how it might affect them in the long-term. Symptoms such as aggression, no effects/positive effects, emotional/psychological outcomes, anxiety/depression/other psychological disorders are all apart of effects of domestic violence.
One specific piece of literature that will be reviewed for this paper is Heavy Hands:an introduction to the crimes of family violence by Denise Gosselin to show the various case studies of children in families where domestic violence is most prevalent. The author does an excellent job in showing how severe a child's reaction may be to domestic violence and how important the child's environment is in helping him/her cope with this kind of situation.
Gosselin as well as other writers provide a resource of information to help draw a conclusion to whether or not domestic violence plays a hindrance in the development of children or not. The new research also provides clues as to what causes the positive or no effects that researchers are finding out about in recent findings. Can children grow up normally and succeed even after exposure to abuse? Some would say yes, while others see the cycle repeat itself with the child assuming the role or behaviors of the abuser in their adult life such as aggression.
Aggression is the most often studied behavioral problem when it comes to researching effects on children of domestic violence. Important connections were made between aggression and physical and psychological violence showing increased aggression in children experiencing or witnessing violence. (American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, 1986, p.53) Research on aggressive behavior indicates a child's need to engage in immediate aggressive behaviors when witnessing threats, violence, and other type of conflict within the household. (Crosson-Tower, 2002, p. 84) Research also indicates witnesses display overt aggression more so than non-witnesses to domestic violence, sparking possible bullying behavior in children. (Ellens & University of California, 2008) In general, the literature demonstrates the link between aggression and exposure to domestic violence.
Externalizing behavior such as aggression results in conduct problems. Nearly half of the children who witness their parents going through some form of physical aggression experience behavioral problems as a result. (Pandey, 2007, p. 124) Parents of these children reported significantly higher levels of misbehavior than those who did not show physical aggression in the household. These same conduct problems are also found to have a major effect on delinquent offenses by females rather than males. Behavioral problems included aggression/anger towards parents, substance abuse, and running away.
III. No Effects / Positive Effects
Contrary to the results explained in section II, children aged six or under were found to not demonstrate negative effects when exposed to domestic violence. (Sturt, 2006, p. 42) Observations performed on children living in shelters under the age of six indicated no signs of negative behavior from experiencing or witnessing domestic violence. Also of note is the way in which female children dealt with hypothetical conflict in relation to males in older children. The females were prone to attempting peaceful resolution whereas the males were more prone to negative resolutions. Although females in the previous section more often displayed bad behavior, they resolve problems without violence, whereas the males used violence.
These results might suggest that age and gender plays a role in how a child becomes affected by domestic violence. Research also indicates that child exposed to domestic violence score lower on scales of social aptitude than control groups (Mullender, 2002, p. 92) Other research suggests specific social problems domestic violence might cause for a child. Some of which are social isolation, difficulties in trusting others and poor social skills.
Social problems also grew to social competence problems displayed through deficits in school performance, interests and activities, school behavior, and most importantly, relationships with others. (McCoy & Keen, 2009, p. 33) Although this was the case for one study, other studies have found no correlation between social competency and exposure to domestic violence as some children developed high levels of social skills even when exposed to abuse. (Ellens & University of California, 2008, p. 16) Resiliency might play a part in this area. Resiliency levels are determined by the environment and the level of abuse witnessed or endured by the child.
In some cases, children who are only seeing domestic violence, but are not experiencing it themselves tend to not be as affected. Their resiliency levels are higher and therefore can cope better with normal childhood situations. Children experiencing abuse however develop more social problems related to anxiety, trust issues, etc. (which will be discussed in later sections) (Ellens & University of California, 2008, p. 13) Again, males have a harder time in this area than females because females are better able to socialize more so than males who are often expected to be strong, reserved, and obedient. It is more accepted in society for females to express their feelings more than males.
Section III. Emotional/Psychological Outcomes
Emotional and/or psychological problems are commonly researched in domestic violence cases. One of the most studied disorder and one that is most often experience by children suffering from effects of domestic violence is PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that has a chance of being developed when a child witnesses or experiences a traumatic event . This event in turn provokes intense fear, horror or helplessness in the child so strong that it lasts for months, even years within the child's psyche. Females have higher rates than males of forming this disorder.
PTSD is often the main disorder people identify in children exposed to domestic violence compared to those who are not. Most of the children experience at least one symptom. Symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia, and other sleep disturbances like bed wetting, intrusive thoughts, trouble concentrating. Symptoms appeared often more severely in children who went through abuse rather than witnessing it. And for those who experienced it and witnessed it, PTSD was developed a higher rate and indicated significantly higher scores on PTSD measures.…