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How does Domestic Violence Affect Children in America
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, “Domestic violence can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender. It can happen to couples who are married, living together or who are dating. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.” However, the silent victims that are lurking in the shadows of the household during times of domestic violence are the ones that are actually affected the most. Every year an estimated 3.3 million to 10 million children are exposed to domestic violence in their home (Carlson, 1984). The things children experience, whether it is seeing abusive events or hearing them, can have a profound impact on their lives according to experts around the country who deal with domestic violence cases. Three to four million children between the ages of three to seventeen are at risk of exposure to domestic violence each year which often leads to an alteration in their behavior, education, and feelings.
One key aspect is the behavioral responses of children who witness domestic violence. Some Individuals tend to start acting out in order to express their feelings of anger in the given situation, or other times, they are looking for an opportunity to just be noticed. In most domestic violence cases, the child is often neglected, ignored or considered to be in the way. Exposure to domestic violence in childhood has been linked to a similar set of outcomes, including low self-esteem, social withdrawal, depression, and anxiety (McLeer, 1994). However, some children use violence as a coping skill in order to try to take control of the situation.which is often seen by exhibiting bullying behavior. A child’s speech, motor, or cognitive skills could be severely hindered as well. One of the primary concerns is that those children who are exposed to violent events could easily pick up on these actions and begin to use violence to express themselves, displaying increased aggression with peers or their parents and defying authority.
Another important aspect is the way in which a child’s education is affected. Since many of these children may exhibit signs of anxiety and/or even have a short attention span, it could often result in poor school performance and attendance. Furthermore, they may fall asleep in school due to the lack of sleep they are receiving at home due to the stresses caused by the fighting and the yelling. Many often fear the worst, that one day soon, they will, themselves, be beaten or harmed whether by accident or by intention. Often, they spend more time listening, hiding or avoiding the home environment which causes them to fail due to incomplete homework assignments or the family not paying attention to their child’s academic progress. On the contrary, not only is that particular child affected but if one kid is having a hard day, it influences the rest of the children in the classroom (Welch 2016). These children have to experience that certain child lashes out at them, at the teacher, at the principal, etc., every day. Often times, these children are neglected at home, and powerless, so when they go to a new environment, like school, they feel like they have power and are not forced to be quiet.
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Regarding the emotional side of the children that are being affected by domestic violence, children from homes with greater domestic violence are less aware of their own emotions and more emotionally dysregulated. This means that these children often disconnect or detach from healthy relationships. Since these children are not being taught or shown how to have a healthy relationship, they often resist anyone getting close to them or seeing through them. Often, their greatest fear is being exposed by someone who can see through it. At the same time, deep down, hoping someone actually does and can do something to help them stay safe and find a healthy way to keep the family intact.
Creating healthy bonds for these children is frightening. Frightening, mostly due to the fact that deep down they feel shame or fear toward even the most innocent person trying to get close to them. There is a saying that goes, “If you really knew me, you wouldn’t like me.” These children feel unlikeable, unloveable and even at times, people see them as dangerous. They can’t create strong friendships or bonds due to the fact that other families that may suspect something is going on in the home, will distance their child from forming a bond or relationship with them. It is scary for an outside family to take on the problems of these families as they fear too much involvement will cause stress on their home environment or induce stress on their own child. As a result, this leads to many of these children either skipping school or dropping out altogether in an attempt to remove themselves from anyone finding out their secret pain or fear.
Sadly, the end result for many of these children is not good. They wind up with no real future academically, no secure relationships or trust of their peers or surroundings and most importantly, they feel lost and abandoned. There need to be responsible safe-houses for these children where they can go and stay at times of trouble or tension in the home and not be punished or fear to return once things calm down. Mental and verbal abuse is an extremely difficult issue to resolve and although the problem had greatly decreased, it is not over. According to the NCADV (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence), “On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.” Furthermore, there are also those people that have not reached out for help yet, and still leaving in fear every single day. There are many children who fear telling the truth will get them in greater trouble and leave them alone with no one to help them cope or survive. These children need to be in a loving environment where they can achieve academically with full support and be constantly reminded that they are good and have unlimited potential. They need a lot of handholding and psychological support that will encourage them to see their value and that what is happening in the home, as difficult as it may be, is not in any way their fault. Every day these children must be reminded of this often with kind words and an open heart.