Monday 25 September 2017
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The World of Violence through a Child's Eye, by Kristy Young

The World of Violence through a Child’s Eye

By Kristy Young

            In a national survey of more than 6,000 American families, 50% of the men that frequently assaulted their wives also abused their children on a regular basis (Strauss, Gelles, & Smith, 1990). As disturbing as this is, reports of domestic and child abuse have been on the rise over the last decade and it has been estimated that between 3.3 and 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually (Strauss, 1992). The effects of domestic abuse, whether they are committed against the child or not, are lasting and parents fail to take this into account. Instead of protecting their children, as inherent familial roles suggest, they are hurting their children physically, mentally, and emotionally.

            This article aims to look more specifically at the effects of domestic abuse on children, that is, how does seeing their mothers or fathers repeatedly being beaten affect them later in life. There are many resources and articles available that discuss the long-term damages of physical abuse to children, but not as many to discuss the psychological damage of simply witnessing abuse. Children are impressionable and learn through their environments. While there is something to be said of the classic nature vs. nurture debate, the fact is, environment plays a large role in either case. According to Steven D. Stewart, Clark County Prosecuting Attorney, children are emotionally hurt when they see their parents being yelled at, pushed around, or hit. This causes confusion because they do not understand why their parents are arguing and they may feel stress, fear, shame, or think that they have somehow caused the problem (1998).

            When children are products of a hostile environment, their overall development is disrupted. The longer they are exposed to the violence, the more likely they are to learn inappropriate ways to resolve interpersonal conflict (Carlson, 1984). In social situations, children often imitate their parental role models when faced with a situation that calls for a reaction. If the child is threatened or angry, they may retaliate with violence because that is the only reaction they know. Furthermore, the stress and fear of living in a violent household can play an important role in a child’s emotional well-being (Street, King, King, and Riggs, 2003). Studies show that children in violent homes are at risk of adjustment issues due to a lack discipline practices and/or a lack of availability or responsiveness from the parents (Street et al., 2003).

            Children learn most of their cognitive skills from their parents initially. When they grow up in hostile environments, they respond to other situations as an imitation of what they know. This is very damaging to a developing mind and to social skills, as a whole. While traditional psychology doesn’t include emotion in the study of cognitive development (which by definition is the process by which a child’s understanding of the world changes with age and experience), it is important to understand that a child’s emotional development is also very dependent on their parents.

            In terms of development, a child is dependent on the attachment (emotional bond formed during infancy) with their parents until about two years old, at which point they become more self-sufficient and interested in play (Feldman, 2005). They will be more fascinated by toys than people until they reach their school years and then they begin social interaction with others (Feldman, 2005). During their school years, social interaction helps children interpret the meaning of others’ behaviors and develop the skills to respond appropriately (Feldman, 2005). However, when children come from a hostile environment, they withdraw from social interaction and do not learn the necessary skills to deal with others’ behaviors. The only education they have is derived from that of their parents.

            Behaviors later in life that are associated with witnessing domestic abuse include a greater risk of drug and alcohol dependency (Strauss, Gelles, & Smith, 1990). When parents are consumed with their abuse on others, they do not take the time to talk about drugs and alcohol with their children, and are often very heavily dependent themselves. This sets the expectation that these types of behaviors are acceptable because no one tells the children differently. Too many kids turn to drugs and alcohol as their only source of escape from their lives. Beyond the addictions, boys who witness their fathers’ abuse towards their mothers are more likely to inflict severe violence as adults, and girls who witness their mothers being abused are more likely to tolerate abusive relationships as they become adults (Stewart, 1998). The vicious cycle only continues unless someone in the relationship puts an end to the abuse, or an outside party takes an interest in the well-being of the children.

            The reality of the situation is that domestic abuse is a large problem across the world, but studies have shown such a significant increase of abuse in the United States as well (Strauss, Gelles, & Smith, 1990). If you know a child that is being abused, or you suspect they are witnessing abuse, get involved. They are the nation’s next leaders and caregivers, and it is important to protect them. The violence they experience as kids is likely to carry over into their adult lives; and while there are exceptions, like former jockey Shane Sellers, the majority is left feeling lost and despondent to the rest of the world. As a parent, become a role model to your kids. Take responsibility for your actions and decisions and be strong for them. Your choices are not their fault, so let them lead a life free of consequences from them.

            The issue of domestic abuse is an important theme in Shane Seller’s autobiography, Freedom’s Rein, due in bookstores April 15, 2008. Shane is in a small minority of abuse victims that choose not to repeat the mistakes of their fathers (or mothers). He has learned that physical violence isn’t the answer to a problem, nor does he feel the need to inflict damage on himself from drugs and alcohol. That isn’t to say that he hasn’t faced many challenges in his life and dealt with issues as a result of the abuse, namely anger. But, that is to be expected. Given his background and experiences as a child, it’s a miracle that Shane has turned out to be the individual he is today. As a child, Shane witnessed the abuse his father inflicted on his mother and other siblings, he experienced first hand how it felt to be robbed of his hard earned money by a father who neither worked nor provided for his family, and he saw the devastation his father was capable of when the family dog was forcibly starved to death. Shane’s contributions to the sport of horse racing have earned him both the respect and rancor of many, but it his decision not to be a product of his environment that makes him a true hero.

Works Cited

Carlson, Bonnie E. (1984). Children’s observations of interpersonal violence. Pp. 147-167

            in A.R. Roberts (ed.). Battered Women and their families. NY: Springer.

Feldman, Robert S. 2005. Understanding Psychology. 7th ed. Boston: McGraw Hill

Possible Signs and Symptoms of Domestic Violence in Children and Adolescents. Retrieved

            February 10, 2008 from

Stewart, Steven D. 1998. Domestic Abuse: Long-Term Effects. Retrieved February 10, 2008


Strauss, M. A. (1992). Children as witnesses to marital violence: A risk factor for lifelong

            problems among a nationally representative sample of American men and women.

            Report of the Twenty-Third Ross Roundtable. Columbus, OH: Ross Laboritories.

Strauss, Murray A., Gelles, Richard J., & Smith, Christine. 1990. Physical Violence in American

            Families; Risk Factors and adaptations to violence in 8,145 families. New Brunswick:

            Transaction Publishers.



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