Childhood experiences have tremendous impact on present, future and long term perspectives of youth in communities. These experiences determine the structure of the future and well being of society. Annually, nearly 4.2 million incidents of child abuse, also known as child maltreatment, are reported (acf.hhs.gov). During the month of October for domestic violence awareness, regard is taken to instances of violence typically rooted from home. Focus on factors contributing to domestic violence are attributed to cases where victims suffer and remain in unfortunate violent situations or overcome and become survivors. However, less focus is implemented on the vicious, downward-spiraling cycle of domestic violence that begins as a child. Effects on children exposed to domestic violence not only hinder the growth of the child, but also the growth of society.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), child maltreatment is defined as “all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligent treatment, commercial or other exploitation resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival or development, or dignity in the context of a relationship or responsibility, trust or power.” The abuse usually represents unreasonably severe, and often, unjustifiable punishment. Domestic violence is more specifically isolated to physical aspects of abuse and is a severity linked to complications in life after childhood resulting in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Adverse childhood experiences are stressful or traumatic events occurring during childhood including physical, sexual or emotional abuse, physical and emotional neglect, substance abuse within the household, divorce and more.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reports that ACEs are important public health issues and may lead to psychological defects (cdc.gov). Immediate psychological defects include emotional effects where children often feel isolation, fear, and an inability to trust. These effects can translate into lifelong psychological consequences, including low self-esteem, depression, relationship difficulties and more. Exposing young, influential minds to traumatizing events advance detrimental and life-long difficulties.
Effects of Domestic Violence In Children
Brain development, is the process of creating, strengthening, and discarding connections in the brain called synapses. Early childhood brain development occurs at a rapid rate in response to the child’s experiences. Based on experiences, synapses are strengthened or gradually discarded. Synapse elimination is a normal part of brain development and once adolescence is reached synapses that are strengthened usually remain intact for the rest of that child’s life. If a child is exposed to abuse or a threatening lifestyle, chemical imbalances are created and the child’s brain can not properly develop. “Constant stress creates a chemical release of cortisol and adrenaline that affects healthy development; it can result in a child's inability to construct abstract and concrete thoughts, emotional reactivity, and motor regulations,” said Megan Gergen, counselor at the Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center. “Children can be affected by a single event of violence or a pattern of violence.” Brain chemistry developed under negative conditions also creates an inability to respond to nurture and kindness. Children in these situations may develop antisocial traits, borderline personality disorders, attachment issues or aggression.
According to the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, abused children may be quiet or clingy and regress back to sucking their thumbs or wetting their beds or clothes. They also exhibit extreme shyness or fear of adults. The behaviorisms of victimized children, do not dissolve as the individual gets older. They progress into other character traits, disorders and imbalances, creating an arduous adolescent stage.
Effects of Domestic Violence In Teenagers
The frontal lobe of the brain controlling factors such as impulses, behavior, learning, reasoning and planning is compromised in the adolescent stage of brain development for abused teenagers. These teenagers face cognitive, social and emotional difficulties. “With cognitive difficulties, I have witnessed all types of behaviors of abused children,” said Donshon Wilson, Administrator of Communications for the East Cleveland School District. “There are students that are shy and keep to themselves. They don’t interact with other students. I’ve also witnessed students that lash out and are very aggressive. We also have students that cling to everyone because they’re missing love and affection.”
The aforementioned frontal lobe factors that are jeopardized create risk of grade repetition, substance abuse, delinquency, truancy, or teenaged pregnancy. “I have seen some students take to drugs and alcohol as a way of dealing with their situations of abuse. The reasoning behind that could be the student not dealing with or knowing how to deal with abuse,” said Wilson. “The negative psychological effects hinder the student a great deal. There are students that don’t attend school, and if they are in school they may not be learning because their minds are somewhere else.” Adolescent students also join band, cheerleading, track and other extracurricular activities to avoid having to go home and face abuse.
Abused teenagers also have increased difficulties interpreting emotions and reacting. The limbic system of the brain, concerned with instinct, mood regulation and basic emotion is also compromised. According to the Children’s Bureau, abused or neglected children are more likely to engage in sexual risk-taking as they reach adolescence, thereby increasing their chances of contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
Effects of Domestic Violence In Young Adults
As a young adult in collegiate years, a variety of learning disabilities may have developed making college life extremely strenuous. “Students may have ADHD, lower IQs, and problems with concentration and memory in college after exposure to domestic violence as a child,” said Paula English Ph.D, psychologist at Cleveland State University counseling center. These individuals continue to exhibit issues with social interaction, criminal charges, and becoming very passive or being subject to hyperarousal, according to Dr. English. Hyperarousal is a primary symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It occurs when a person’s body suddenly kicks into high alert as a result of thinking about their trauma or being in an environment associated with abuse (Healthline.com).
Young adults abused as children continue to struggle with the effects of abuse, even after they have sought counseling or therapy. A study using ACE data found that nearly 54 percent of cases of depression and 58 percent of suicide attempts in women have been related to adverse childhood experiences such as abuse. ACE data also concludes that male children who are abused have an increased likelihood of using intravenous drugs later in life. WHO reports that adults abused as a child are associated with increased risk of problematic and harmful drinking. Other research reflects an increased likelihood that children who have experienced abuse or neglect will smoke cigarettes, abuse alcohol, or take drugs as an adult. “Individuals also have financial problems and issues with employment,” said Dr. English.
“It takes a survivor time to adjust once they leave an abusive situation,” said Commander Tiffany Smith, Criminal Justice teacher at Shaw High School. “Addressing the pain can be painful and overwhelming.” Enduring, leaving and recouping from domestic violence takes strenuous amounts of effort through therapy, counseling and support. According to Domestic Violence Child Advocacy Center, resources addressing domestic violence exceed $5.8 billion (dvcac.org). Members of the abused individual’s community as well as society as a whole pay a price for child abuse and neglect. Programs that prevent maltreatment have been shown to be cost effective. However, allocated taxpayer dollars and indirect costs represent the long-term economic aftermath to society because of child abuse and neglect. These include costs that are associated with expanded use of health-care systems, juvenile and adult criminal activity, mental illness, and substance abuse (childwelfare.gov).
Children that are victims of abuse may become abusers in adulthood. They may also reintroduce the defeated mindset equivalent to the acceptance of being abused by another individual, also called re-victimization. Any event is counterproductive of development and discourages proper growth throughout one’s life. The cycle of domestic violence must be halted. The intention to provide an upbringing of children displaying delectation is monumental and the diligence of society must reflect this effort. Domestic violence is not only a domestic hardship, but a trickle-down effect that is damaging to every individual involved, most importantly the children. Please walk away. Do it for the children.