Over 3 million children are at risk of exposure to parental violence each year. Most research suggests that as many as 75% of children from violent homes observe their fathers battering their mothers, with reports ranging from 68% to 87%. It has been noted that in some instances the violence is most likely to occur when the children are present, as the father seeks to further humiliate his wife. The amount of hostility and verbal abuse turned on you can and does affect your children. Research shows that children who witness such behavior show long lasting effects.
Children are prone to suffer from parental violence in four ways:
- Immediate trauma
- Longer term adverse effects on their normal development
- Living under high levels of stress on a consistent basis, with the trauma that fear of harm to self and mother inflicts
- Exposure to violent role models
Children who have witnessed violence report fear, worry, confusion, and stress. They experience problems regardless of their age at the time of the violence. Children as young as one year were observed to regress in their behavior so dramatically that they were incorrectly diagnosed as mentally retarded. Preschoolers demonstrate more yelling, hiding, shaking, stuttering and aches and pains in their heads, stomachs, and bowels. Children older than about six years of age may identify with the aggressive parent, growing up to be aggressive or abusive themselves. This is especially true for boys who have watched their fathers berate and abuse their mothers. Girls are more likely to display passive, withdrawn and dependent behavior. They also are more likely to become targets of abusive fathers; they are 6.5 times more likely to be sexually abused by their fathers than are girls in nonviolent homes. In the long term, girls are likely to repeat their mothers’ behavior, falling into abusive relationships. Click here for more information.
Other problems experienced by children who witness their mothers being abused include pervasive anxiety, fear, sleep disruption (e.g., nightmares, bed wetting), and school problems. Depression, low self-esteem, poor self-confidence, and insecurity are internal symptoms recorded by researchers. Difficulties in academic achievement, concentration, absenteeism, and conflict with other children are more externalized symptoms also commonly found among children who witnessed violence at home. The children are often less socially competent than their peers, as they are more isolated and feel shame about their families. By adolescence, children who witnessed violence have more behavior problems, are more likely to get into trouble with the law, and are more likely to commit violent acts outside the family. One study suggests that these children are arrested by police four times more often than non-abused children. Some adolescents express their distress by running away, abuse of alcohol, or suicide attempts. In divorcing families where violence was frequent and ongoing, research has also traced the development of personality disorders that are difficult to change and require long and intensive therapy. For another article, click here.
Excerpted from Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001). For more information: http://www.yourdivorceadvisor.com/.
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