Domestic Violence Impact on Teens Ages 13-18

The adolescent may feel extreme guilt over not being able to prevent the domestic violence from occurring, or, in some cases, feeling they are somehow to blame for the family’s problems. They may also experience reactions similar to those of adults, including:
Flashbacks to the episodes of domestic violence.
Sleep problems, including nightmares.
Emotional numbing.
Substance abuse.
Problems with peers.
Antisocial behavior.
Risk-taking behavior, such as driving recklessly
Self destructive behavior, for example drug and/or alcohol abuse, self-mutilation or eating disorders.
Withdrawal and isolation.
Suicidal thoughts.
Physical complaints that have no medical basis.
Difficulties at school, including academic decline and/or refusal to attend.
Examples of acting out behaviors: Examples of internalizing behavior:
Children from violent homes have higher risks of alcohol and other drug abuse and juvenile delinquency. Teens from violent homes experience guilt and shame about their violent homes and fear the consequences of talking about the abuse within the home. Because the approval of peers is so important at this age, many teens would prefer to hide what is going on in their families than risk being ostracized by their peers. These children may end up running away to avoid having the secret of what is going on in their families get out to their peers in addition to running away to escape the violence within their homes.
Carlson (1990) found that adolescent observers of marital violence acted out in a number of ways including running away, using violence against their parents, and using violence against their dating partners. According to McNeal and Amato (1998), children who have witnessed parents’ marital violence may blame themselves for violence between their parents, resulting in feelings of guilt and lowered self-esteem. Teens who feel this way may believe that running away may solve the violence against one of their parents because they blame themselves for the abuse and feel that by removing themselves from the situation, they are removing the cause of abuse.
All of these behaviors may either lead a parent or family to “throw out” a teen. The teen may be the scapegoat of the family and her/his behaviors may be justification for the family to throw the teen out. Or the teen exhibiting these sorts of behaviors and becoming involved with the system may cause her/him to run away to avoid consequences or to protect the secret of the family violence. McNeal and Amato (1998) also discuss how teens who have witnessed inter-parental violence may have difficulty regulating their own emotions and may be unable to trust others and therefore unable to form stable bonds with others.
These types of behaviors may be hiding deeper issues of anger, mistrust, fear, or depression. A teen may run away from the situation using her/his past history of getting in trouble as justification for running, but may actually be just trying to escape a painful situation. In many cases, the teen may run from one abusive situation at home to another abusive situation on the street with older “friends” or partners in order to survive. Children and teens who have witnessed domestic violence may also feel powerless to stop the abuse between their parents and may demonstrate other behaviors such as eating disorders or self-mutilation in order to gain a feeling of power back in their lives.
In addition to feeling responsible for the violence in their families, teens may take on roles of the family nurturer. “Parents may rely inappropriately on their children for nurturance, support, and guidance” (Rosenberg, 1987). Thus, the child may lose many of their childhood experiences, further contributing to a feeling of pressure, anxiety or depression for the child. Teens in these roles may attempt to escape from this pressure or anxiety through running away or taking their own lives.