Effects on Children & Teens


Children and teens are often hidden victims of domestic violence/abuse. When exposed to a parent who is abusive, children and teens often witness domestic violence/abuse, get hurt accidentally or become direct victims of abuse. The effects of exposure to domestic violence/abuse can be as damaging to children and teens as the damage that an abusive person inflicts on his/her partner.

The good news is that children and teens are resilient; they are strong and able to heal if they are listened to, nurtured and allowed to feel safe. Your relationship as a parent with your child and teen is an important factor in determining their resiliency. While exposure to a parent who is abusive puts children and teens at risk, you can counteract the effects of exposure to abuse with your nurturing, support, unconditional love and a supportive network of friends and family.

What is best for your child and teen is ensuring your safety and theirs.

Witnessing Domestic Violence/Abuse

Three to 10 million children witness domestic violence/abuse each year in the United States. Interviews with children show that they are aware of and suffer the consequences of witnessing domestic violence/abuse. The extent of the risk and trauma of witnessing domestic violence/abuse depends on the age of the child and the severity, length and frequency of abuse. Children as young as 1 or 2 years old and teens exposed to an abusive parent often feel afraid, helpless, guilty, angry, frustrated, isolated and confused.

The Co-Occurence Of Domestic Violence/Abuse With Child Abuse & Neglect

Children and teens exposed to an abusive parent are also at higher risk of child abuse and neglect. In a national survey of more than 6,000 families, 50% of the men who frequently assaulted their wives also frequently abused their children. Children and teens exposed to an abusive parent are often isolated; called names; humiliated; manipulated into abusing the non-abusive parent; threatened with abandonment, suicide, harm to self or pets; intimidated; denied access to healthcare, proper nutrition, clothing and shelter; sexually and physically abused. The abusive parent will resort to these behaviors in an effort to maintain power and control over their partner and children.

Effects Of Exposure To An Abusive Parent/Domestic Violence/Abuse*


  • Higher risk of miscarriage
  • Less access to pre-natal care
  • Health risks to mother and fetus


  • Developmental delays
  • Excessive separation anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Disruptions in feeding schedule
  • Failure to thrive
  • Infants may be caught in the “crossfire” and injured

School-Age Children:

  • Psychological: Depression, anxiety, confusion, loss of self-esteem, anger, aggression, fear, guilt, withdrawal
  • Behavioral: Aggression, self-destructiveness, problems in school or they may exhibit perfectionist behavior; irrational fear of failure, may perceive punishment as love
  • Physical/psychosomatic: Headaches, stomach-aches, insomnia/sleep disturbances, bed-wetting, excessive clinging, separation anxiety.


  • Poor academic performance or they may feel obliged to always get straight As
  • Parentification-they may feel responsible for siblings and/or the abused parent
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor social skills
  • Drug and alcohol use/abuse
  • Running away from home
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Criminal activity
  • Early and risky sexual activity, pregnancy or early marriage

*The effects of exposure to an abusive parent and to domestic violence/abuse will vary depending on the age of the child or teen (and often, gender), the length, frequency and severity of the abuse, the child or teen’s relationship with the non-abusive parent, whether they are themselves targets of abuse, and/or have access to a support network. It is important to know that children and teens will show different symptoms depending on all of these factors. The younger the child and the longer the exposure to abuse, the more critical it is to ensure her/his immediate emotional and physical safety, interrupt trauma and support their healing.

Children deserve a safe home
and a life free of fear.

What Can You Do?

If you are a parent in an abusive relationship, acknowledge that your children and teens are at risk, allow them to safely express their feelings, let them know it is not their fault and plan for their safety and your own. It is important to help them feel safe.

Listen to them, build trust and provide space and time for safe and fun recreational activities. It is important that children and teens have trusting and safe relationships with adults, and opportunities to feel good about themselves and build self-esteem.

Remember that what is best for your child and teen is ensuring your safety as well as theirs.

Tell Them:

  • You love them
  • It’s okay to talk about their feelings, including feelings of rage
  • It’s not their fault
  • Anger and frustration is normal; violence is not
  • It’s okay to feel angry with your parent/s-it doesn’t mean you don’t love them
  • There are safe places to go

Call our hotline and ask about our parenting education and support classes: 1-800-300-1080.

2211 Palm Avenue | San Mateo, CA 94403
Business Line: 650-652-0800 | Fax: 650-652-0808 | 24 Hour Hotline: 800.300.1080
Email: info@corasupport.org

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