When it comes to our children, we parents work especially hard to keep our children safe. They hear messages about “stranger danger” and not accepting candy or gifts from anyone they don’t know. We teach them how to safely cross a street, or call 911 in case of an emergency. We encourage them to listen to their instincts and how to run, scream and call for help if in danger. But what if what frightens them the most is within their own home? The very place that should be their sanctuary, their safe place?
Children growing up in homes where there is domestic violence experience a very different type of danger. All those safety skills seem useless when it comes to how they are supposed to react when witnessing violence between their parents. An overwhelming confusion sets in.
Children experience many different types of exposure to the violence, from hearing it, to feeling the before and after effects of it, and, sometimes, being directly involved. But, nearly all are watching it, upwards of 86 percent. Nine out of ten children in domestic violence homes are eyewitnesses. This is how the generational cycle of violence begins. Children learn what they see.
In a comprehensive survey, the Department of Justice noted children who witness domestic violence may suffer from difficulties with attachment, regressive behaviors, anxiety and depression, aggression and conduct problems. As they grow older, they may be more prone to dating violence, delinquency, further victimization, and involvement with child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Ultimately, being exposed may impair a child’s capacity for partnering and parenting later in life, continuing the cycle of violence into the next generation.
While children can be remarkably resilient, the physical and emotional effects have their impact. It is increasingly important that we create interventions that decrease or prevent the harms associated with exposure, and ultimately ends this cycle. The Archuleta County Victim Assistance Program’s youth violence prevention initiatives and victim support services work towards these objectives. Our Expressions Children’s Group teaches children healthy displays of emotions in fun, easy games like Emotions Bingo. Our Girls on the Run program builds self-esteem and healthy responses to conflict or peer pressures. Our teen programs provide the avenues for change that require a less violent, less controlling, more respectful approach to dating relationships. And our advocacy and support services provide victims tools to foster healthy parent-child relationships and build resiliency within their children.
Everyone has the ability to foster the change and end the cycle, even if it’s simply being a friend. One amazing woman who not only witnessed tremendous violence in her home, but was the victim of unthinkable violence, adoringly praises the two people in her life who rescued her. These two adults never knew what she was enduring as a child, they simply befriended her. One was her neighbor and one was her coach. By merely taking an interest in her, letting her be a child around them, listening to her dreams and ambitions, gave her the resilience she needed. She never once told them her horrible secrets, yet their kindness saved her. Today this woman not only survived, but now thrives as a partner, an aunt, an entrepreneur, a scholar, a teacher, a friend and a survivor.
You can change what children see, and end the cycle, by being a model of compassion and respect to others, especially a child.
ACVAP believes all people have the right to live free from violence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If you would like more information on our youth or victim support programs, please call 264-9075. All calls are free and confidential, 24 hours a day.