FAMILY ABUSE (AND THE EFFECT ON TEENAGERS)
‘I hate weekends. Most of my friends talk about the weekend all week at school, like it’s something to look forward to. Not for me, it isn’t. Weekends are when my Dad comes home drunk. Weekends are when he hits my Mum, and if I try to stop him he starts on me. Then I have to go to school wearing long sleeved tops to hide the bruises.’
‘My mum’s boyfriend hates me. He says it’s all my fault that my Mum doesn’t have enough time or money to have fun with him all the time. I’m stupid, I’m a bad boy, I just get in the way and make a mess in the house. He says my Mum would be much happier if I wasn’t there. Maybe he’s right. Perhaps it is all my fault’
‘I’m not allowed to lock my bedroom door at night. That’s because my step dad likes to come and check up on me after Mum has gone to sleep. I lie there, listening, waitng for the sound of his footsteps coming up the stairs, and I feel sick. I don’t like those ‘special cuddles’ he says are a sign that he loves me. It hurts me, and I feel nasty afterwards.’
‘I hate going to school. The other kids won’t go near me, ‘cos they say I smell. My school shirt is always dirty, and my shoes are falling apart. My Mum’s too busy with her boyfriend, she’s never home. And she just doesn’t seem to notice when there isn’t enough to eat in the house.’
Family abuse can take many different forms. It can be physical and violent, like in Seun’s case. Or verbal and emotional, like in Sam’s situation. Or, it can be sexual, like that suffered by dammy. Then there’s neglect, harder to qualify but often just as damaging.Whatever type of abuse it is, the effects on the family can be devastating. Teenagers might seem grown up in many ways, but they just aren’t equipped to cope with abuse. Although there’s a lot of help and advice that can be given to teenaged victims of family abuse, far too many kids just don’t know how to get in touch with the people and organisations who can help them. Or, they’re too afraid to ask.
Whether you are a teenager or child who is suffering abuse, or a concerned friend or family member who suspects that something might be going on, there are things that you can do. The first step is to know how to recognise abuse: get to know the different types of abuse and the signs it is taking place.
Types of family abuse
- Physical abuse: Physical abuse is often the easiest to spot…but not in every case. It can be very violent, like punching, kicking, stabbing or burning, but it can also be poking, pinching or shaking. Physical abuse may, or may not leave marks, bruises and scars. If the marks are on the face, outsiders may be able to guess what is going on and take steps to help the child. But abusers are often very clever at hiding the signs of their abuse, leaving bruises and scars on the parts of the body that are covered by clothes and can’t be easily seen. Abused teens are often ashamed of their situation too, and hide the marks themselves. Teenagers can feel they are somehow responsible for the abuse and that makes them afraid to seek help.
- Emotional abuse: It’s hard to see emotional abuse from the outside. It leaves no scars or brusies on the body, but it can cause terrible damage to a child’s mental state. Emotional abuse can cause all kinds of behavioural disorders, and often results in a huge loss of self esteem. Even if you are the teenager or child who is being emotionally abused it can be hard to understand what is happening, and that it is not your fault.
- Sexual abuse: Sexual abuse is any sexual contact between an adult or much older child and a minor. It can also be sexual abuse if you are an older teenager who has sexual contact forced upon you that you do not want and feel frightened by. If the person doing the abusing is a member of your own family, like your dad or older brother, it’s known as incest. Any type of sexual abuse is wrong and damaging.
- Neglect: Neglect is the odd one out, of family abuses. This is because it isn’t always intentional, and the abuser is frequently unaware of the consequences of their actions. A parent might neglect a child because of ignorance of the care a child really needs, or because of financial problems that lead to them simply not having the time or money to provide the care a child requires. Neglect can also be emotional. If a parent or carer doesn’t make time to talk to their child, listen to their problems, emotions and worries, it can also be classed as neglect and can be responsible for psychological and emotional problems for the child. Teenagers are not adults, and still need a lot of guidance from their parents, evn if they don’t think so!
Other forms of abuse that can affect teenagers
Not all abuses that can affect teenagers takes place within the family. You may suffer abuse because of your race, your religion, the way you dress or look. You might be abused by your peers because you are gay, or because someone assumes that you are gay. Abuses of this type often take place at school or in places where you interact with your peers. This is normally known as bullying.
Abuse can also take place in a relationship. This can be extra difficult for a teenager to deal with as it happens within a context of ‘love’ , and in a relationship that you have chosen for yourself and feel responsible for.
How do you know that you are being abused?
It sounds like a crazy question. Of course you know you are being abused if your dad is beating you black and blue, or creeping into bed to have sex with you every night! But, it really isn’t always that easy. Younger children or teenagers often have a huge trust in the adults in their family and believe them when they say it’s alright to behave in this way. Or, if the adult who is abusing you tells you that you are to blame for the abuse, because you haven’t done well at school, perhaps, or haven’t helped enough around the house you might not recognise that you are being abused. Often, kids who grow up surrounded by violence and abuse can think that this type of life is normal and are unable to recognise it as wrong and abusive. You need to know that no sort of abuse is OK! Even if you are living in a family where one of your parents abuses the other in front of you, you too are a victim of abuse. You deserve help and help is available.
Why abuse happens
If you are caught up in an abusive situation, you rpobably ask yourself ‘Why?’
It’s a very good question. The first thing to understand, absolutely and completely, is that is is not your fault. It doesn’t matter if someone tells you that you are to blame, you’re NOT. Many abusers try to shift the blame for thir behaviour onto the victim, but this is their problem and part of their abuse. No one, least of all a child or young person, deserves to be abused no matter what they have done, not done or are accused of doing.
There are as many reasons why a person becomes abusive as there are different types of abuse…and different types of people. Not all abusers are really bad people…but all are doing a bad thing.
Sometimes, a person abuses others because they themselves have grown up in an abusive family and been a victim of abuse. They grow up thinking that abuse is normal, and transfer this behaviour to their adult lives and family relationships if the problem hasn’t been properly dealt with at the time. Others may not be able to draw the line between discipline and abuse. Some can’t deal with the stress that they find themselves under, perhaps due to financial problems or family illness. Mental illness, such as depression can also induce abusive behaviour, as can alcoholism and drug use.
Abusers like these can be helped if they ask for counselling and therapy…but they need to fully commit to solving the problem and might need help for a long time. If you are being abused by a family member, you might think that reporting the abuse and asking for help is a betrayal, but actually it is the only way to help not just yourself, but also your abuser.
Distinguishing between abuse and normal family life
As we’ve said, it can be difficult for a young person to actually make the distinction between abuse and normal family life. Every family has arguments and fall outs from time to time. It’s quite normal to get it wrong, sometimes, while you’re growing up, and if you behave badly, it’s OK for your Mum or Dad to discipline you by removing priviliges for a period of time, or to insist that you send more time on your homework and less time with your friends for a while. Parents can get stressed too, because life isn’t easy for grown ups any more than it is for teenagers. Sometimes they can be cross and a little unreasonable, and you feel that they just aren’t being fair. As long as they aren’t humiliating you by calling you names or hitting, threatening or withdrawing necessities from you, it’s probably normal. A healthy family will overcome these problems quite quickly, by talking the problems through and finding reasonable, fair solutions. If someone outside the family is abusing you, maybe a bully at school or an adult like a teacher or even a priest, you should feel able to talk to your parents about it and ask for their advice.
How abuse can affect you
Of course, physical abuse affects you in obvious ways. You may be sore, injured or visibly scarred by violent attacks. But the effects of abuse are not always as obvious. The emotional and psychological effects of abuse can be even more devastating than the physical. Children or teens who have been sexually abused may develop unhealthy attitudes towards sex and be unable to form normal, loving relationships. They may become afraid to express love physically, or may feel that they need to have sex with every one they form any relationship with, inappropriately.
Many teenagers who are abused become withdrawn from their family and friends. It can become harder to concentrate on school work, and their grades can suffer. They might be frightened of going to school, especially if they are marked by abuse or are being bullied at school. They stop attending social events or sports clubs and hide away from the world. This just increases a sense of isolation and makes it even harder for them to find help or for others to notice and offer assistance. Bad behaviour at school or in the home can also be a direct consequence of abuse, as the young person loses their ability to distinguish between right and wrong or seeks attention in the only way they can. Some teens who are suffering abuse feel so desperate that they even consider killing themselves. Young victims of abuse often feel that they are worthless and lose hope for the future. If you feel like this, you can call helplines where someone will advise you and reassure you that there is a way out and that there are people who care. Contact details for help if you are suffering the effects of abuse are given at the end of this article.
What to do if you are being abused
If you are being abused, or if someone you know is being abused, there is always something that you can do, even if you don’t think so. Whatever your abuser tells you, you have nothing to be ashamed of, and you do not have to keep the abuse a secret. So, what should you do?
The easiest answer is to talk to someone you trust who is in a position to advise you. This could be a member of your family, a teacher at school, a priest from your church or perhaps the parents of a good friend. Often, if the abuse is happening outside the home, telling your Mum or Dad is good. But, if the abuse is happening within the home your Mum or Dad might find it difficlt to accept and it is better to seek advice from someone not so close to the problem. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you or care about you, it’s just that abuse is difficult for adults to handle too.
If there isn’t anyone you know personally who can help, or if you feel that you or anyone else is in danger, there are emergency helpines and advice lines that you can call. There are even refuges…places of safety…where you can go if you need to escape. Leaving home is a tough thing to do, but it may be just what you need to help start the process of solving the problems. You can also check our contact information and am sure we will do something about