The relationship between exposure to family violence and behavior in children and adolescents

Melissa Klika, Pace University


Research over the past 30 years highlights the existence of family violence as a major social problem. There are serious implications of the effects of exposure to violence on children and families. In fact, child abuse is consistently associated with increased levels of both internalizing and externalizing behavioral problems in children. Recent studies suggest that children who witness family violence may exhibit symptoms similar to children who have been abused. Further, there are reports that children who experience both stressors exhibit greater levels of distress than either of the other two groups separately. The impact of family violence on a child's adjustment is likely multiply determined. Characteristics of the child, parent, and environmental influences serve as possible mediator/moderator variables. The present study examined the behavioral differences and similarities among children physically abused, witnesses of family violence, and both witnesses and recipients of abuse. The study also investigated the extent to which behavioral outcomes vary as a function of age and gender. Maternal stress was examined to determine if stress serves as a mediating variable that buffers the effects of violence or exposure to violence. The sample consisted of 145 mother and child dyads referred for forensic psychological evaluations at a family violence unit in New Jersey. Children were grouped according to their level of exposure to violence: physically abused, witness to family violence, and both abused and witnesses. Responses to behavioral rating scales were analyzed to determine if group differences exist and determine potential mediating/moderating variables. Results indicate no significant differences among each of the three groups with regard to behavioral adjustment. The results are discussed in the context of gender differences in coping strategies as well as the possibility of sub-clinical levels of problems that the rating scales did not capture. Levels of maternal stress appear predictive of increased levels of behavioral problems in children. An awareness of the impact of exposure to violence is important for clinicians, particularly in the schools. Child abuse and exposure to violence needs to be considered as possible sources of developmental symptomatology. Further, males and females may experience forms of violence exposure differently. Finally, the relationship between family violence and children's and adolescent's behavior is discussed in terms of professional research and practice.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Developmental psychology|Behaviorial sciences

Recommended Citation

Klika, Melissa, "The relationship between exposure to family violence and behavior in children and adolescents" (2005). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3179453.



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