Domestic Violence, Both Seen and Felt, Puts Children at Risk

Children who witness violence within their homes are more likely to struggle with psychological and behavioral problems than those who do not witness aggression within their families. Some of the consequences related to witnessing violence include externalizing and internalizing behaviors. Similarly, children who experience violence at the hands of parents and family members are at increased risk not only for having psychological and behavioral problems, but also for being both victims and perpetrators of violence and aggression outside of their family units. But until recently, few studies have examined how the compound effect of witnessing and experiencing family violence impacts the social, behavioral, and psychological domains of children. Additionally, little research has been able to clearly establish if these effects vary by gender.

In an effort to examine the compound effect of witnessing and experiencing violence, Noora Ellonen, PhD, of the The Police College in Finland, recently conducted a study based on self-reports from over 13,000 children aged 12-13 and 15-16. The reports described acts of violence that the children witnessed or physical violence they experienced. The children were also asked to describe the level of parental control they perceived their parents to have and any behavior or adjustment issues they had. Ellonen found that being a victim of abuse and witnessing violence had deleterious effects on the children. However, those who experienced both victimization and exposure had the most significant adjustment problems.

Specifically, the children who had witnessed and experienced abuse had the poorest relationships with their parents, and had higher levels of externalizing and internalizing behaviors. They were more likely to act aggressively and experience anxiety or depression than children without a history of exposure or victimization. They also reported the lowest levels of perceived parental control, suggesting that children who are abused by parents may behave more delinquently in response to the abuse, or that their parents are less physically or emotionally available to monitor and regulate children’s behavior. “Exposure to physical violence was also associated with increased risk of delinquency, regular alcohol use, and smoking as well,” added Ellonen. Results from this study did not reveal any differences in adjustment based on gender. Ellonen said that even though the data reported here was based solely on self-reports from children, it should still be considered reliable; it can provide more insight into the compound effects of violence on the psychological well-being of children.

Ellonen, Noora, et al. (2013). Exposure to parental violence and outcomes of child psychosocial adjustment. Violence and Victims 28.1 (2013): 3-15. ProQuest. Web.

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  • jillian


    April 3rd, 2013 at 4:15 AM

    I have never quite understood the whole background of violence, how families get to that point where it is the norm, they think that it’s ok, and they put a spouse as well as a chid in the way of harm.

    Just to know the unmendable psychological damage that I would be placing onto my child would be enough for me to stop and think a little more clearly about what I was doing and the damage that could not be undone.

    But I guess that’s why my kids will never see this in our home, because my husband and I would both do anything that woud protect our children from having to witness such behavior.

  • Jonathan


    April 4th, 2013 at 4:26 AM

    Children are just so impressionable and they generally pick up on any little thing that they see and hear. If they are in a home where violence against others is the norm, then why wouldn’t they think that this is the way that is alright for them to behave as well? If you let them see this and feel this as a child then there is sure to be a great likeihood that they will act out this same vioence against someone else later in their own lives.



    April 11th, 2013 at 9:19 AM

    It really is terrifying the profound effects just witnessing the violence in these situation have on the children that suffer the abuse, or just witness it. ten alarming statistics about Domestic Violence: I think the most terrifying stat is what percentage of boys that murder their fathers did it to “protect” their mother. Shows how warped the situation makes a child’s mind. We can make this better through educating the youth of domestic violence.

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