Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence, Peer Relations, and Risk for Internalizing Behaviors

Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence, Peer Relations, and Risk for Internalizing Behaviors

A Prospective Longitudinal Study

  1. Kathleen Camacho1
  2. Miriam K. Ehrensaft1
  3. Patricia Cohen2

  1. 1John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York

  2. 2Columbia University, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York
  1. Miriam K. Ehrensaft, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 445 West 59th street, New York, NY 10019 Email: mehrensaft@jjay.cuny.edu

Abstract

The present study examines the quality of peer relations as a mediator between exposure to IPV (intimate partner violence) and internalizing behaviors in a sample of 129 preadolescents and adolescents (ages 10-18), who were interviewed via telephone as part of a multigenerational, prospective, longitudinal study. Relational victimization is also examined as a moderator of IPV exposure on internalizing behaviors. Results demonstrate a significant association of exposure to severe IPV and internalizing behaviors. Relational victimization is found to moderate the effects of exposure to severe IPV on internalizing behaviors. The present findings suggest that the effects of exposure to IPV had a particularly important effect on the risk for internalizing problems if the adolescent also experienced relational victimization. Conversely, the receipt of prosocial behaviors buffer against the effects of IPV exposure on internalizing symptoms in teen girls.

Ron Huxley Relates: This study simply backs up our belief that witnessing domestic violence has a negative effect on children. This article focuses specifically on teens and how one’s peer group can help to buffer those negative effects. Apparently, teen girls have reduced effects when they have a strong peer network. Perhaps all that texting is good for them? OK, maybe that goes to far but it does support another belief that group therapy, formally or informally, can help our adolescents who have been victimized in this way.

Child Abuse May Alter Structure of the Brain, Research Shows – Businessweek

By Nicole Ostrow

Dec. 5 (Bloomberg) – Teenagers who were abused as young children show changes in their brains that put them at risk for behavioral problems in adulthood, according to research from Yale University.

Brain scans of adolescents who suffered physical abuse and neglect showed differences in the part that controls executive function – mental processes such as planning, organizing and focusing on details – according to a study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. Changes were also seen in brain areas that regulate emotions and impulses, the study said.

About 3.7 million U.S. children are assessed for child abuse or neglect each year, but the number may be higher as many cases don’t come to the attention of professionals, the authors said. The research, which evaluated teenagers who hadn’t been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, suggests abuse or neglect victims be monitored to reduce the risk of disorders like depression and addiction, researchers said.

“What these findings show is that experiences that people have early in life can really subsequently and fundamentally alter the way their brain develops,” said Philip Fisher, who wrote an accompanying editorial in the journal. “These kids, in spite of the fact that they didn’t have actual disorders, have the potential to be very vulnerable for problems over the course of their development.”

Human brains continue to develop through early adulthood, particularly the area that regulates emotions and executive function, said Fisher, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Oregon and a senior scientist at the Oregon Social Learning Center in Eugene, in a Dec. 2 telephone interview.

Gender Differences

The study included 42 kids ages 12 to 17 who didn’t have a psychiatric diagnosis. The researchers used questionnaires to determine if the children suffered from physical abuse, physical neglect, emotional abuse, emotional neglect and sexual abuse. They then took images of their brains using MRI.

Scans showed that girls were more likely to have differences in brain areas related to emotional processing, making them more vulnerable to mood disorders like depression, while boys had changes to areas for impulse control, which could make them more vulnerable to drug and alcohol addictions, said study author Hilary Blumberg, an associate professor of psychiatry and diagnostic radiology in the Child Study Center at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut.

Neglected Children

Brain alterations occurred in both adolescents who suffered abuse as well as neglect, the research found. The study didn’t show distinct patterns in the brains of children who were sexually abused, although Blumberg said that may be because the number of children who were sexually abused was small.

“It was very important to see the findings with regard to neglect,” Blumberg said in a Dec. 2 interview. “That was an area that had been little studied.”

Researchers are continuing to follow these teens to see if they develop behavior problems like depression or substance abuse and to understand why some may develop issues while others don’t, she said.

–Editors: Angela Zimm, Bruce Rule

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Ostrow in New York at nostrow1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

Ron Huxley’s Reaction: The information in this blog post is not new to anyone working with abused and neglected children. What is interesting is that it is posted on a very well respected business site. This tells me that the mainstream is beginning to get a clue about a very serious problem that might result in funding to help. To be really effective, we have to attack this issue “before” it gets to a crisis level and cost us more in the form of juvenile justice and mental health programs. Let’s work with the families to prevent the abuse and neglect from happening in the first place!

Children of depressed mothers have a different brain: MRI scans show their children have an enlarged amygdala

ScienceDaily (Aug. 15, 2011) — Researchers think that brains are sensitive to the quality of child care, according to a study that was directed by Dr. Sonia Lupien and her colleagues from the University of Montreal published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists worked with ten year old children whose mothers exhibited symptoms of depression throughout their lives, and discovered that the children’s amygdala, a part of the brain linked to emotional responses, was enlarged.

Similar changes, but of greater magnitude, have been found in the brains of adoptees initially raised in orphanages. Personalized attention to children’s needs may be the key factor. “Other studies have shown that mothers feeling depressed were less sensitive to their children’s needs and were more withdrawn and disengaged,” explained Drs. Sophie Parent and Jean Séguin of the University of Montreal’s, who followed the children over the years.

Scientists have established that the amygdala is involved in assigning emotional significance to information and events, and it contributes to the way we behave in response to potential risks. The need to learn about the safety or danger of new experiences may be greater in early life, when we know little about the world around us. Indeed, studies on other mammals, such as primates, show that the amygdala develops most rapidly shortly after birth. “We do not know if the enlargement that we have observed is the result of long-term exposure to lower quality care. But we show that growing up with a depressed mother is associated with enlarged amygdala.”

“Having enlarged amygdala could be protective and increase the probability of survival,” Lupien said. The amygdala may be protective through a mechanism that produces stress hormones known as glucocorticoids. The researchers noted that the glucocorticoids levels of the children of depressed mothers who participated in this study increased significantly when they were presented with unfamiliar situations, indicating increased reactivity to stress in those children. Adults who grew up in similar circumstances as these children show higher levels of glucocorticoids and a greater glucocorticoid reaction when participating in laboratory stress tests. “What would be the long term consequences of this increased reactivity to stress is unknown at this point.”

Although this study cannot clarify the causes of enlarged amygdala, the researchers note that the adoption studies have also shown that children who were adopted earlier in life and into more affluent families than others did not have enlarged amygdala. “This strongly suggests that the brain may be highly responsive to the environment during early development and confirms the importance of early intervention to help children facing adversity,” Lupien said. “Initiatives such as prenatal and infancy nurse home visits and enriched day care environments could mitigate the effects of parental care on the developing brain.” Séguin adds, “Future studies testing the effects of these preventive programs and observational studies involving children exposed to maternal depressive symptoms at different ages, and consequently for different lengths of time, should provide more insight into how this occurs, its long term consequences, and how it can be prevented.”

This study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on August 15, 2011, and was financed in part by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, and Fonds de recherche en santé du Québec. The University of Montreal is officially known as Université de Montréal.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by University of Montreal, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

As a therapist working with adopted children, I can see how this adaptation plays out in a child’s everyday life. An enlarged Amygdala allows the child to protect themselves and seek emotional “nurturance” from their environment. Unfortunately, this result in an over reaction to events and misinterpretations of hostile behavior on the part of other people in their lives. Too many children, due to severe abuse and neglect, in their early moments of life, have an inability to modulate sensory input and become labeled as “disruptive”, “reactionary”, and “attachment disordered”. While these labels are true, they brand the child into negative roles of “defiant”, “oppositional”, “manipulative”, and “damaged”.

When I am presented with these labels I simply agree with the surface description but make a point to ask why are they manipulative, etc. The goal is to dig to the root of the problem and focus on it, in collaboration with the child to work on changing this pattern of behavior. Too many labels identify the child with the problem and leave the situation feeling hopeless, even permanent. It is not permanent but lots of therapeutic effort is needed to make changes. The alternative is to place the individual into institutions where we know hope is limited and opportunities for repair, namely bonding with a healthy caregiver, is not possible.

How can you punish an abused child?

I recently watched a movie called “Unthinkable” (CAUTION: Movie spoilers ahead) and was shocked by the intensity of the violence. At first I turned it off then later went back to finish watching the movie. There was something about the plot line that drew me back in. The subject matter was simple: A terrorist sets up nuclear bombs throughout America, is captured, and then tortured to tell their locations. Yes, tortured. Aside from the more obvious political messages here, there was a subtler, frightening psychological message.

No matter how much the terrorist was tortured physically or mentally he never broke. He suffered but he continued to play mind games with this capturers till the very end. What would hold a person together despite such horrific punishments? I realized what the answer to this question was when the terrorist stated that “he deserved this” for all the bad things he had done. The movie never really described what these “bad things” were but it was enough of a mindset for him to endure unbelievable torture. His captors tried everything to break him: reason, empathy, brutality, mind games, more brutality and finally more brutality. They just kept upping the ante on the terrorist with the belief that eventually everyone breaks. He didn’t.

What struck such a cord in me was that many of the children I work with, who have been mistreated,  have this “terrorist” mindset. Their behavior says: “What can you possibly do to me that I have not already endured in a much younger, more vulnerable state as an infant or young child?” So many of the children who adopt this “defiant” attitude have a deeper narrative that they deserve the punishments they are getting. Children internalize their abuse and believe that they are responsible for what happened to them. In fact, they often believe that they are “damaged goods” unworthy of love or kindness or anything good. They may set up caregivers to make them angry and want to punish them. It is easy for an adult caregiver to play right into this narrative and reinforce the very thing they want to change in the child. They may not beat them or leave them in a closet for days but we do use other punishment-based techniques (lock them up, move them from home to home, shame them with words or actions, make them carry out sentences, etc) all with the hopes that they will express their guilt and shame and change their behaviors.

I think the end goal is a worthy one. We want to help the child see things differently but our methods need some updating. Hope for this is coming from the field of neuroscience which is why you will see so much of this in this blog. It may not be the final answer but it is allowing us to see the small, hurting child behind the big terrorist mask. It is telling us that children’s brains and minds are affected by their mistreatment and we must go back and redo attachment-based treatments to help them rebuild the mental and physical capacity for love and affection and moral reasoning too.

I know it sounds like I am hard on the adult caregivers. I guess I am but we are the ones who have to do something different. We can’t expect the child to “get it” and explain it to us. We have to look deeper to see the alternative narratives for the child to live out. That will take time and patience. Unfortunately, we caregivers are products of our own culture and parenting narratives. A shame-based approach to parenting is how many of us were raised and so, it is the only approach we  know how to use. If time out for an hour in a child’s room doesn’t work, what else is there? More time in the room? Perhaps we should yell louder or threaten more? Obviously not. The answer to my title: How can you punish an abused child, is simple. You can’t.

The mission of the Parenting Toolbox blog is to give parents more tools. I used to teach a lot of court-ordered parenting classes where parents where referred to learn non-punitive parenting skills. I quickly learned that you got no where trying to debate the punishment mindset. I realized that I couldn’t really win the “spank/no spank” argument. I might get some compliance from the parent but there was no change in insight. My focus became teaching other things the parent could do by giving lots of parenting tools. This worked. It is my vision to see parents better equipped and hurt children healed with this blog as well.

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