Teen Exposure to Violence
The teenager living in a home with domestic violence is experiencing mixed messages about love. Typically, they will hear statements such as, “you know your dad really does love us, he just looses his temper sometimes,” and “I really don’t mean to hurt your mother, I love her.” Teenagers also receive a spiritual message that children should honor their parents. When combining these messages, we create a teenager that accepts and associates violence with love and honor with silence. This problematic integration shapes the way in which teens will develop their intimate relationships.
In Thomas Merton’s book No Man is an Island, he wrote, “What we are is to be sought in the invisible depths of our own being…in our soul.” Merton encourages us in the fact that we are much is more than what we do or say. Our actions are not what we truly are, but merely reflections of our true selves or, our souls. However, he adds that what we believe of ourselves and our actions depend greatly on “how the soul sees itself…”
Will teens exposed to domestic violence discover their true selves, their worth, and their unique beauty, or will they loose themselves in the soul crushing, heart breaking trauma of domestic violence? Will they develop into their own identity and personhood, or will they be lost never to discover themselves outside of the chaotic environment and experience of domestic violence?
Violence Begetting Violence
Domestic violence and youth violence are serious and pervasive problems that tend to occur in the same families and that tend to perpetuate one another. There are inextricable links between child abuse, domestic violence, and youth violence. Family violence not only injures and kills women and children, it can teach the young people who experience and witness it that violence is acceptable. Young people exposed to abuse in their homes are more likely than others to become violent.
Involvement of the Church
The church and its clergy must become the positive promising partners to help teenagers exposed to domestic violence discover what great wealth lies in the depth of their own being. What does the Christian Tradition have to offer teenagers that witness domestic violence? What resources are offered to help teenagers discover their own self-worth, value, and uniqueness in God? How can the Christian tradition shine the light on the souls of these teenagers and reveal to them their true selves? These are the practical questions that require theological exploration when considering a church response to teenagers exposed to domestic violence.