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Child Abuse

Abstract

Children are significantly affected by exposure to different types of violence from family, community, and violence depicted in the media. The current paper focuses on the impact of social violence on children, specifically how exposure to domestic violence at a young age affects their personalities and development. It discusses social violence exposure and the way it is linked to child abuse. Domestic violence is recurrently researched, as many children are exposed to violence in their home environment.

The main recommendation in this paper regarding how to help children who have been exposed to violence is based on the concept of an attachment theory. The paper also suggests the best practices for professionals who are concerned with victimized children. The main aim of the essay is to evidence the need to effectively manage social violence victimization cases to prevent the negative effects associated with violence on personalities and development of children.

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Introduction

Overview

Violence is defined as an act of using physical force to intentionally threaten, injure, or cause psychological harm to an individual, a group, or even oneself, according to the World Health Organization. Children under the age of ten years are often exposed to violence at school and home since they spend most of their lives in these environments. These incidences of violence have a long-lasting effect on children in terms of their emotional, physical, social, and cognitive development. Social violence is a public concern; it has significant impact on children’s growth and development process, and children who have been exposed to social violence need treatment.

Definition of Social Violence

Social violence takes place between people with relations, such as between marital partners or toward children, and between colleagues or even strangers. It can be done through intimidation, disqualification, different forms of coercion, forced intercourse or slaps, kicks, and punches. Interpersonal violence takes different forms – domestic, community, and media violence. Community violence is often experienced by children from low-income neighborhoods and is characterized by a continual exposure to conflict involving the use of knives, guns, and drugs. Children can be exposed to violence through media, such as television, violent video games, and the Internet. The type of social violence which involves members of a particular family is commonly referred to as domestic violence. This is characterized by people who share a kinship or place of coexistence, resulting to aggression toward each other.

Statistics

Numerous children reside in homes where intimate partner violence is a common occurrence. In 2006, 15.5 million American children experienced at least a single incidence of violence in their family while 7 million children live in homes where the incidence of partner violence is more severe. The number of children in a domestic violence shelter in one particular day totaled 13,485 children with 5,526 children seeking non-residential program services. Findings from the Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health suggest a 1-7% likelihood of girls who were physically abused as children perpetrating interpersonal violence as adults and 1-17% for boys.

Significance of Study

In evaluating how social violence impacts children, it is essential to consider that the childhood stage of life is important for proper development thus there is a need for social support and emotional investments in order for the young to successfully pass this stage. The high incidence of children’s exposure to violence through increased instances of domestic violence, violent video games, mass shootings and gun-related violence in the United States is another reason to assess the effect of violence on the children. Domestic violence is used by different family members, either as a discipline measure or to resolve a conflict; they also evidence a lack of fundamental care for children. When children experience this kind of maltreatment at home, they no longer consider the family situation a space of support and acceptance. Child abuse in the home environment is often perpetrated by fathers who mistreat their partners, as well as victimized mothers. This could lead to a child losing both parents through death or incarceration which would influence factors such as where they grow up as the presence of guardians is indispensible to the development of a child.

Impact of Social Violence

Physical Development

Exposure to social violence also leads to poor mental and physical health in children. The consequence of violence can range from minor to severe injuries for children. For instance a child who was the victim of a beating could suffer from bruises, broken bones, or, in severe cases, death. According to a NSCAW (The National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-being) research, 28% of children who had been victims of maltreatment suffered from a chronic health condition within 3 years of the incidence. Abusive head trauma and poor physical health issues are common in children who have been victims of violence. Children who have witnessed violence between their parents can easily become forgotten victims, as they are not considered as “direct victims” and these experiences could trigger psycho-physiological changes. According to Holt et al., social violence has further implications besides those of emotional abuse on children’s health and development; it is a risk factor for the victimization of children – physical, sexual, and even neglect. Children who result to internalizing their feelings when they experience social violence are, in many cases, subject to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. The physical injury as well as psycho-physiological conditions children experience due to social violence affect the proper development of their mind and bodies.

Currently, there is very little research on the differences of effects of violence on children at different ages; however, children may be affected differently according to age. Babies living in an environment where domestic violence is a common occurrence often suffer from higher incidences of ill health, disruptive attachment patterns, and poor sleeping habits. Pre-school aged children display high levels of behavioral disturbance through poor eating and sleeping habits, bed wetting, and self-blame for adult violence. Younger children also display symptoms, such as extreme anxiety, fear, nightmares, and problems verbalizing their emotions. Older children underperform at school, present anti-social behavior, and even run away from home in response to the violence they are exposed to in their homes.

Adolescents who were exposed to chronic domestic or community violence often display high levels of anxiety, aggression, and revenge seeking behaviors. According to Brown et al., children who have experienced social violence are often predisposed to health damaging behaviors in adolescence and adulthood, such as drug abuse and smoking that undermine the well-being of such individual. Poor physical health later on in life can result from childhood victimization. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, liver and lung disease, obesity, and asthma are some of the health conditions that victims of violence are likely to experience in adulthood.

Cognitive Development

Recent research is focused on the impact of social violence on the brain development of children. According to McDonald et al., child abuse in the form of violence can result in an impaired brain development. The brain structure is developed over successive sensitive periods; each period is characterized by the formation of certain neural pathways and these are linked with specific abilities. Neural pathways structured earlier on in life present a foundation for the development of progressively more complex skills; this process suggests that lifetime behavioral patterns, learning, and mental and physical health are influenced by early life experiences.

There is emerging evidence that social violence, especially when experienced in the first two years of life, can be especially harmful to a child as illustrated by lower scores on cognitive measures. Stressors, such as hunger, are the ones that children are preprogrammed to respond to, however, a situation that forces the extended activation of a child’s system of stress management, such as a continuous exposure to social violence, are believed to negatively affect the developing brain of the child. This is due to the elevated levels of stress hormones, as well as altered production levels of brain chemicals which interfere with general internal physiological state. Proper brain development is an essential process in general child development process because the brain is essential for cognitive activities, such as learning that are indispensable to living a quality life.

Social Development

Children who are victims of social violence often result to behavioral problems, such as aggressive behavior. They might exhibit violent behaviors in other settings, as an imitation of instances of violence they have experienced in the past. In some cases, children might adopt such behaviors with the assumption that violence is a suitable way to resolve and address conflict Metzter et al. found that children who live in environments characterized by domestic violence commonly experience significant and recurrent behavioral problems in comparison to their counterparts. This disparity is also evident between children who have been physically abused and those who have not; children who experience physical abuse often depict the heightened levels of emotional and behavioral disturbance. By taking up antisocial behaviors such as aggression, there is risk to the proper social development of children as they will deter potential friends and people who can help them and consequently develop poor social skills.

Incidences of low self-esteem and insecurity are also high for children who have been exposed to social violence and this could result in anti-social behavior. Children who receive high levels of care and protection, especially by their families or other social groups have better chances of living a quality life by developing suitable social skills. This type of positive attention, when directed at children, helps them to forge positive ideas about themselves, a good identity, as well as to perceive the world in a different light. A number of studies have linked child abuse with future juvenile delinquency and even adult criminality; children who have been exposed to violence are likely to indulge in criminal activities later on. Exposing children to violence also leads to them becoming abusive parents. It is necessary to take a prompt action to protect and care for children exposed to violence.

Academics

Social violence negatively affects the adaptation of children to the school environment as well as their academic success. Successfully completing the educational curricula is an important developmental task that children are required to accomplish to become competent adults. This is compromised by exposure to violence as such children often show lower school achievement in comparison to their counterparts from non-violent homes. Academic achievement can also be influenced by disturbances in terms of emotional and behavioral difficulties and cognitive functioning. In numerous occasions social violence is accompanied by other stressors such as poor nutrition, poverty, and parent’s psychopathology which can distract children from their studies and cause poor performance at school. The academic performance of a child may also be affected by the manifestation of post traumatic stress disorder this include intrusive thoughts, sleep disturbances, and diminished concentration. Children who are performing poorly at school may be forced to repeat grades which would lead to a negative attitude towards learning.

Successful adaptation to the school environment is another important aspect of academics that influences child development. Exposure to social violence at childhood also causes an individual to have problems at school in terms of their relations with other students and teachers. Bullying is defined as an aggressive behavior among peers at school where physically or psychologically aggressive behaviors can be observed. This is a troubling phenomenon that exposes children to violence and is, in some cases, resultant of domestic violence. A child who is not well adapted to the school environment – he/she does not get along well with teachers and other students often develops inappropriate behavior such as bulling and truancy which lead to poor performance. Children who perform poor at school at earlier stages of their lives are less likely to pursue further levels of education.

Emotional Development

Social violence exposure causes children to experience emotional problems, such as anxiety, fear, and isolation; in the long term, these can have significant psychological consequences, such as issues of self-esteem. Research has shown that children develop apparent distress from as early as one year of age due to verbal conflict. Children react differently to their exposure to violence individually. Exposure to continuous violence risks a child developing depressive symptoms or anxiety. In some cases, children “externalize” their individual feelings through anti-social or aggressive behavior. Other children may “internalize” their confusion and feelings which result in significant levels of anxiety and depression. According to research, both girls and boys display similar internalizing behaviors, as a result of trauma from the exposure to violence; however, boys are more predisposed to display externalizing behavior in comparison to girls. Externalizing behaviors, resulting from social violence exposure, can manifest in different ways.

The emotional development of children is significantly affected by social violence, mainly because they are considerably dependent on others for their care and, thus, need to develop an attachment to a care giver. The attachment theory proposes that the availability and willingness of others to provide protection and care to a child affects the way children view their own worthiness, their mental representations, and how they forge close relationships. In an environment characterized by social violence, an adult’s role of care and protection for a child is compromised and this affects child’s attachment. Poor quality of attachment often leads to behavioral alterations which could affect the relationship between children and their parents, resulting in a worse living situation attracting the attention of child protection services. According to Devaney, social services, in most cases, focus on the presenting concern which is a wanting parent-child relationship, rather than assessing the impact of violence on children in a house where there is violence. Impaired brain development and poor personalities are the main effects of social violence. However, they are linked to other adverse outcomes of the incidence of violence in children.

Treatment

Coping can be defined as the process of constantly and consciously changing behavioral and cognitive efforts in a bid to manage taxing demands – internal or external, on a person’s resources. In some instances, children develop coping mechanisms to deal with social violence. Emotional-focused coping refers to an attempt to reduce and manage stress for instance a child may distract themselves by playing with their toys or watching cartoons. Problem-focused coping is the process of altering a difficult situation; a child might try to intervene physically or call for help. Younger children often result to the emotional-focused coping method than their counterparts. This is often evidenced by an attachment to one parent or a caregiver who is non-violent. This reaction has proven to be effective in mitigating distress and even trauma linked with exposure to social violence. Emotional-focused coping was, however, found to be linked to higher incidences of mental health issues in the long term. Professionals should, however, take notice of children who result to coping, as this might prevent a child from getting the necessary assistance.

According to Lourenco et al., there is a need to design a strategic action to assist children who have been victims of social violence; addressing the problem suitably and introducing appropriate intervention strategies is indispensable in remedying the impact of social violence. Making positive attachments is a proven method of coping with social violence; relevant institutions and practitioners should, thus focus their intervention efforts on promoting and repairing such positive attachments. Creating avenues for adults with positive influence on children who have experienced violence would help to minimize the impact of social violence on young children. The best practices with regard to the treatment of children who have been exposed to social violence require the participation of different professionals. First, social workers and officials should have professional training which would allow them to better assess and identify cases of social violence. Secondly, the judicial system should ensure that children who are victims of violence are afforded the necessary protection and assistance. Lastly, institutions and agencies which are involved in the provision of care and protection for children at risk of exposure to violence should be a part of creating an articulated safety net to protect the interests of the children.

Conclusion

Children can be exposed to violence at home, in their community, or through media. Community violence entails violence related to guns and drugs and is often directed toward strangers in low socio-economic neighborhoods. Some of the media content depicted on television and in video games can also expose young minds to violence. Domestic violence occurs in a situation where people share a kinship or are coexisting in the same residence; this type of violence significantly impacts children below the age of ten years in a number of ways.

Exposure to social violence leads to an impaired brain development for many children, which affects their ability to undertake necessary cognitive processes, such as learning. Poor personality development also results from social violence experienced in childhood. This is explained by the attachment theory which suggests that the attachments children make early on in life are integral to forming individual identities. Children who experience violence often have negative emotional responses, such as fear and anxiety if these go unchecked they can result in internalizing or externalizing behaviors, the later affects other people in society, as it might be characterized by aggression. Health concerns, such as depression and PTSD can result from chronic violence.

Antisocial behavior can result from depressed feelings linked to exposure to violence. It is important to offer assistance to children who are subjected to violence in order to avoid the negative consequences that follow them into adolescence and, consequently, into adulthood. Some children develop coping strategies in order to deal with stressful situations, however, some of these are not effective, as they may hinder such a child from attracting professional assistance. Professionals should develop effective and strategic action plans, as well as employ best practices in availing protection and care to victims. Social violence has a significant impact on the personality and development of a child, as well as on other aspects of their life and should thus be managed appropriately.

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