With October brings fall colors, Halloween and thoughts of the upcoming Holiday season. Something not everyone is aware of is that October is also domestic violence awareness month. When people think of domestic violence they tend to consider the effects on the individual being abused, but there are many effects on the children involved as well, and the effects on the child may last a lifetime. It is important that parents and trusted adults know what to look for and how to start those difficult conversations to help protect our youth. Approximately 1/3 of the youth in the United States will witness domestic violence (Schreiber,2017). It is astonishing how many children can be affected. Even if it isn't your child you may be the person that child reaches out to for help therefore, it is important to know what to look for.
Working with youth in a shelter I have seen first hand, youth who have witnessed domestic violence. Many of them have even witnessed greater traumas such as shootings and homicide. These teens have heightened reactions to their surroundings, get nightmares, have higher levels of anxiety and depression as well as lower levels of trust for adults. For example, a young man I worked with needed to sit with his back against a wall and be able to see all of his possible exits because he had witnessed violence in his home. If this young man was unable to see his surroundings he would become so anxious he couldn’t focus on the task at hand. Other teens I've worked with also had similar reactions, some even had increased anxiety when they heard sirens, when people walked into the building or at night. Some things to look out for are changes in behavior, angry outbursts, nightmares, anxiety, bed wetting, change in eating habits, self-harm or unusual cuts or bruises. It is heart breaking to see these young souls so troubled by what they witnessed in their homes. The very people that are supposed to love, protect and care for them are the same people who have caused them to have distrust, fear, anger and anxiety. Working with these teens has also helped me to understand the importance of knowing what to say and when to say it.
The teens I work with typically have great levels of apprehension towards me, since I'm basically a stranger to them, but generally they will start to open-up. When they do open-up they begin to share their traumas and what they experience at home. When these teens share about violence at home they don't want pity or someone to feel sorry for them, they want understanding and acceptance. It is important that whoever a teen or child talks to about abuse is actively listening to the youth. The listener should be open and non-judgmental. The next step is to remind the youth that they are not to blame and make sure they are safe. Safety with our youth is top priority. As a trusted adult we can also try and come up with a safety plan for the youth. This could include coming up with a safe place to go, someone to call and reminding them not to get involved in the violence. If safety can be re-established for the youth they will be able to feel more at ease and relaxed. Knowing they are safe can actually be a spring board for the youth to share more information and seek out further help at home.
Domestic violence can be a difficult topic to approach, with anyone of any age. It is important to be supportive of the youth involved because they are experiencing it too. Most importantly, be available for them to talk to and never judge or blame them. Remember that youth are strong and resilient so with support they can overcome domestic violence and stop the cycle. Be the support net they need, the bigger the supportive net the less likely they are to fall.
Help and Hotlines
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453
National Crime Victim Helpline: 1-800-394-2255
Turning Point: 1-586-463-6990
Schreiber, E. (2017). CDV domestic violence and the children in its shadow. Retrieved from http://www.rawhide.org/blog/infographics/cdv-domestic-violence-and-the-children-in-its-shadow/?gclid=CIfavZXItNYCFQ6RaQodHkcFvA