Every year, millions of children witness a parent abusing another parent in their home. The abuse doesn’t have to be physical; it can also involve verbal abuse or ongoing manipulations. Many people may not be aware of the ramifications of domestic violence on children, both long and short-term. In addition, research shows that children who witness domestic violence are much more likely to become abusers as adults.
By definition, domestic abuse involves one partner in the home knowingly hurting another, such as hitting, shoving, or sexual violence. It can also involve complicated emotional abuse, such as financial control, separating a partner from outside relationships, extreme jealousy or intimidating threats. Domestic violence typically occurs toward females and is the greatest source of injury toward women.
Even if parents believe the abuse is unknown to the children, experts warn that children are highly perceptive and will bear the effects of even being aware that abuse is happening. Children may feel that they have to keep the problem a secret and will often live in isolating circumstances – both factors that negatively impact the development of a child and cause permanent damage to the family.
Specifically, a child who is witnessing domestic violence may have unusual injuries, either from the abuse itself or the child trying to protect a parent. Sleeplessness is another outcome, so the child may be more tired than usual. A parent who is being abused may not care for the child adequately, therefore unwashed clothing or hygiene problems can be present. It is believed that children from abusive homes experience a 1500 percent higher likelihood of neglect than other children.
Emotionally, a child who lives in a home with domestic violence may act out in fits of rage, especially boys. The child may be depressed and have problems with social relationships or behavior at school. They may seem extremely withdrawn, a product of feeling guilt or shame at not being able to stop the abuse at home.
Domestic violence also bears long-term effects on children. There is great risk for children from abusive homes to use illegal substances. Some experts believe a child living with a mother who is a victim of domestic violence may have a six times higher chance of leaving home too early or abusing alcohol and drugs. In addition, children from homes where parental abuse is prevalent are more likely to have suicidal tendencies, break the law and drop out of school.
The child may also develop an understanding that it is normal to be in an abusive relationship. For boys, especially, the danger is great that they will become abusers themselves. Boys from homes where domestic violence occurs have up to a ten times greater chance of abusing their partner than girls.
Domestic violence tends to become more intense over time, and its effects can seriously interrupt normal emotional and physical development for children – even perpetuating a cycle of abuse for generations. Anyone who suspects a child is living with domestic abuse is encouraged to contact a local Child Protection Services office.