The NORC at the University of Chicago, one of the largest independent social research organizations in the United States, released a study in October on the prevalence of Teen Dating Violence. According to this national study, nearly 20 percent of boys and girls reported themselves as victims of physical and sexual abuse in dating relationships. Astoundingly, more than 60 percent reported being victims of psychological abuse, broadly defined as actions ranging from name-calling to excessive tracking.
As a parent myself, it is beyond comprehension to think that more than 60 percent of our teens are enduring regular abuse. But, what if the individual is a teen parent. Under those circumstances, there is another victim – the child. When discussing intimate partner violence, we often forget to address the impact on children. However, those of us working with struggling families each day observe the trauma experienced by children watching their mothers threatened, hit or stalked. The resulting trauma impacts their young bodies in the same manner by increasing their heart rate, cortisol levels and decreasing the depth of their breathing. Sustained exposure to trauma for these teens or their children leads to chronic depression and anxiety and often substance abuse to dull the pain.
Fortunately, the impact of witnessing violence on children is being targeted by multiple national and local efforts. In 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder released a report entitled Defending Childhood addressing the impact of witnessing violence on children. Family Compass and a consortium of providers including: The Family Place, Vickery Meadow Youth Development Foundation, Jewish Family Services, Pastoral Counseling Center, Momentous Institute and the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) have utilized the report to develop a local initiative to assess trauma among youth at DISD and implement a trauma informed model to allow children to heal from their experiences of trauma. For more information or to join the cause, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org