The term domestic violence often calls to mind instances of physical aggression, typically with the male partner acting as the primary aggressor. But the truth is, domestic violence is a type of interpersonal violence that can take many forms, and anyone exposed to it can be considered a victim. Certainly physical abuse can be defined in this manner, but emotional and mental abuse are all the more common.
At its core, domestic violence is about fear, manipulation, and control. The aggressor uses tactics such as violence, withholding, threats of abandonment or isolation, or all of the above to control his or her victim(s). Domestic violence can take many forms, including the following:
- Intimidation (whether by physical or verbal force)
- Isolating the person / keeping a person from seeing and/or contacting family and friends
- Sexual assault
- Consistently putting the other person down by saying hurtful and spiteful things / making a person feeling worthless
- Any type of physical violence
- Withholding basic necessities (money, food, clothes, medications, etc.)
- Stopping a person from getting a job / manipulating a person to leave his or her job
- Threatening physical harm, regardless of whether or not the threat is acted upon
Sadly, domestic violence can affect anyone, and can cause devastation to entire families. And while some forms of domestic violence can be obvious and easily identifiable, others are more subtle and difficult to detect. Teens and children who are living in a home where chronic domestic violence is present will have marked difficulty in school and in social relationships. They may act out in violent behaviors or withdrawal completely.
For these reasons and more, it is imperative to connect these young people with supports to help them overcome the effects of the trauma they have witnessed in their homes.
Identifying the Effects of Domestic Violence in Teens
Teenagers communicate differently than adults do, and will not always be open about the realities of what is happening in their homes. Often, teens feel a responsibility to protect a parent or guardian by concealing abuse, so they may be hesitant to expose the reality of their situation, being especially fearful that they may be removed from their homes.
In order to gauge a truthful picture of a teen’s home life, approach the topic with patience and sensitivity, and be sure to do so in private. The following questions may help you as you inquire as to the safety and wellbeing of a teen you care about:
- Do you feel afraid to bring up certain topics because you are worried that it will cause someone to become angry?
- Has someone limited your access to things you need like money, the phone, food, etc.?
- Does an adult blame you for his or her own negative behaviors?
- Have you come to believe that you deserve to be treated poorly?
- Do you feel embarrassed to have your loved ones around you when you are with a family member because of what he or she might do or say?
- Does someone at home blatantly ignore you?
- Does someone at home minimize or put down your accomplishments?
- Does someone in your life yell at you or purposely humiliate you?
- Do you feel as though someone at home is constantly criticizing you or putting you down?
- Does someone destroy things that belong to you?
- Does someone consistently keep tabs on you throughout the day? (i.e. constantly calling you or texting you to see where you are, what you are doing, etc.?)
- Does someone threaten to hurt you, or even kill you?
If a teen answers any of the above questions in a way that leads you to believe that he or she is experiencing violence at home, it will be imperative to follow your state’s mandates for reporting child abuse. Laws may vary from state to state, but in many cases adults are considered “mandatory reporters,” meaning that you may be required by law to report suspected abuse or neglect to your statewide child abuse reporting hotline.
Effects of Domestic Violence in Teens
While they will vary from person to person, teens who experience domestic violence at home will show a variety of symptoms consistent with the trauma they are being subjected to, including many of the following:
- Always seems fearful or anxious
- Frequently fails to fulfill obligations (e.g. consistently misses school, work, or social occasions without providing an explanation)
- Difficulty maintaining appropriate peer relationships
- Dresses in long-sleeved shirts and pants, even when it is hot outside in an attempt to hide any bruises, scrapes, or scars
- Has limited access to food or other necessary resources
- Demonstrates a very low sense of self-worth
- Shows a decline in academic performance
- Has frequent injuries, which are brushed off by your loved one as being “accidents”
Treatment for Domestic Violence
When a teen is forced to remain in a home where chronic violence is the norm, he or she will continue to experience the damaging effects of this trauma, and may go on to develop mental health conditions and other physiological concerns.
In order to heal from the effects of exposure to domestic violence, teens will require trauma-focused care that is tailored to his or her unique experiences. But with the proper treatment, teens can overcome the damaging effects of abuse, go on to forge healthy relationships, and enjoy lifelong recovery from the hurts of the past.