The Negative Results of Childhood Exposure to Domestic Violence The phrase “domestic violence” typically refers to violence between adult intimate partners. It has been estimated that every year there are about 3.3 to 10 million children exposed to domestic violence in the confines of their own home (Moylan, Herrenkohl, Sousa et al. 2009). According to research conducted by John W. Fantuzzo and Wanda K. Mohr(1999): “[e]xposure to domestic violence can include watching or hearing the violent events, direct involvement (for example, trying to intervene or calling the police), or experiencing the aftermath (for example, seeing bruises or observing maternal depression)” (Fantuzzo &ump; Mohr, 22). The effects of exposure can vary from direct effects such as behavioral and developmental issues to interpersonal relationships, all of which lead to detrimental prospects on the child’s development. This paper will explore those effects and how it affects children.
Exposure to violence in the first years of life brings about helplessness and terror which can be attributed to the lack of protection received by the parent. The child can no longer trust their parent as a protector (Lieberman 2007). This lack of trust early in life can bring about serious problems later in life, as there is no resolution to the first psychosocial crisis, trust vs. mistrust. For these children exposed to domestic violence, the imaginary monsters that children perceive are not only symbolic representations or a dream. The monsters that children who witness domestic violence have to deal with carry the reflection of their parents. Children who witness domestic violence face a dilemma because the children’s parents are at their most frightening exactly when the child needs them the most. The security of the child is shattered as their protector becomes the attacker in reality and the child has nowhere to turn for help (Lieberman 2007).
“Exposure to family and community violence is linked with aggressive behavior. One of the theoretical perspectives that explains this link is social learning theory, according to which children learn from the aggressive models in their environments. Additionally, victimization may compromise children’s ability to regulate their emotions, and as a result they may act out aggressively” (Margolin &ump; Gordis 2004, 153). “Posttraumatic stress symptoms and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are important consequences of exposure to violence because they can impair social and behavioral functioning” (Margolin &ump; Gordis 2004, 153). Research has shown that children exposed to domestic violence demonstrate impaired ability to concentrate, difficulty with schoolwork, and significantly lower scores when their verbal, motor, and cognitive skills were being tested (Fantuzzo &ump; Mohr). It seems as if the academic and cognitive difficulties from exposure affect the child possibly through its impact on psychological functioning.
For example, PTSD and depression may hinder with learning and the ability to perform well in the classroom (Margolin &ump; Gordis 2004). Researchers have found a positive correlation between externalizing (aggression) and internalizing (lowered self esteem, depression, anxiety) and domestic violence exposed children. Children exposed to domestic violence have been found to be four times more likely to develop internalizing or externalizing behavior problems than children who are not exposed to violence. The disruption of the development of basic competencies harms the child’s ability to manage emotions effectively and increases internalizing and externalizing behaviors (Martinez-Torteya et. al., 2009). This is particularly problematic for preschool aged children as younger children display more intense externalizing and internalizing behavioral responses to parental conflict than older children do (Ybarra, Wilkens, &ump; Lieberman 2007).
These responses are due in part to less mature cognitive skills. Because these skills have not advanced yet, there is an increase in the likelihood of the child expressing psychological vulnerabilities following the conflict because of cognitive errors. Exposure to domestic violence compromises interpersonal relationships that are the foundation of children’s daily lives in addition to having direct effects. “Social support is a key buffer against the negative effects of violence. Because parents are key sources of social support, the disrupted parenting associated with family violence may exacerbate negative effects of exposure to violence. More generally, children exposed to violence may be sensitized to hostile interactions and may have difficulty negotiating peer conflicts. These interpersonal difficulties can rob children of social support and increase their risk for associating with deviant peers” (Margolin &ump; Gordis 2004, 154). In a study conducted by C. McGee, it was reported that many children found it difficult to develop friendships for reasons such as holding back from others as well as fear of inviting others to their home (Adams 2006).
In conclusion, it is clearly shown that domestic violence has a negative effect on the children who witness it. An expanding body of research suggests that childhood trauma and adverse experiences can lead to a variety of negative health outcomes (Anda &ump; Chapman &ump; Dube &ump; Felitti &ump; Giles &ump; Williamson, 2001, p.1). In fact, childhood stressors such as witnessing domestic violence and other household dysfunctions are highly interrelated and have a graded relationship to numerous health and social problems (Anda &ump; Chapman &ump; Dube &ump; Felitti &ump; Giles &ump; Williamson, 2001, p.2). It is obvious and clearly shown that the children who witness domestic abuse have serious long term mental effects.
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