Historically, it has been believed that children who witness domestic violence are more likely to be in abusive intimate relationships and experience psychological problems such as post traumatic stress disorder, (PTSD) in adulthood. Some investigators have suggested that a history of family violence or abuse is the most significant difference between delinquent and non delinquent youth. An estimated 1/5 to 1/3 of all teenagers who are involved in dating relationships are regularly abusing or being abused by their partners verbally, mentally, emotionally, sexually, and/or physically. Between 30% and 50% of dating relationships can exhibit the same cycle of escalating violence as marital relationships. However, a new study has found that there are certain protective factors that will foster resilience and increase the likelihood that the cycle of violence will end for women who, as children, were exposed to their mothers’ battering.
Women who are more resilient, economically stable, have a strong work ethic, are independent and competent are less likely to suffer from PTSD symptoms. Researchers have found that resiliency was enhanced if mothers were employed full-time — that is, gainful employment has a positive influence on their children’s recovery from witnessing domestic violence.
PTSD in adulthood is increased if a child had witnessed the abuse of their mother; among children whose mothers experienced mental problems; and in children who witnessed police involvement in violent incidents. In particular, children of mothers who had mental health problems were more likely to develop PTSD later in life, as were children who witnessed the arrest of family members during violent incidents. Unlike children, adolescents typically have a greater ability to externalize negative emotions. In addition to symptoms commonly seen with childhood anxiety (e.g., sleep problems, eating disturbance, nightmares), victims within this age group may show a loss of interest in social activities, low self-concept, withdrawal or avoidance of peer relations, rebelliousness, lashing out at objects, treating pets cruelly or abusively.
Referrals to the appropriate school personnel could be the first step in assisting your child or teen in need of support. When there is suggestion of domestic violence with a student, consider involving the school psychologist, social worker, or guidance counselor. If your child expresses a desire to talk, provide them with an opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings. In addition to talking, they may be also encouraged to write in a journal, draw, or paint.