The psychology behind child abuse and neglect

The Psychology of the Child deals with mental growth or, what amounts to the same thing, the development of behavior patterns (including consciousness) up to adolescence, the transitional phase marking the entrance of the individual into adult society. Mental growth is in- separable from physical growth: the maturation of the nervous and endocrine systems, in particular, continues until the age of sixteen. The psychology of a child must be regarded as the study of one aspect of embryogenesis, the embryogenesis of organic as well as mental growth, up to the beginning of the state of relative equilibrium which is the adult level.

Child abuse is the physical and/or psychological/emotional mistreatment of children. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define child maltreatment as any act or series of acts or commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child.

Most child abuse occurs in a child’s home, with a smaller amount occurring in the organizations, schools or communities the child interacts with.

The mental health journal, states that child abuse is defined as “any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm”. There are four major categories of child abuse: neglect, physical abuse, psychological/emotional abuse, and sexual abuse.

NEGLECT: Neglect is the instance in which the responsible adult fails to adequately provide for various needs, including physical (failure to provide adequate food, clothing, or hygiene), emotional (failure to provide nurturing or affection) or educational (failure to enroll a child in school).

PHYSICAL ABUSE is physical aggression directed at a child by an adult. It can involve striking, burning, choking or shaking a child. The transmission of toxins to a child through its mother (such as with fetal alcohol syndrome) can also be considered physical abuse in some jurisdictions .The distinction between child discipline and abuse is often poorly defined. Cultural norms about what constitutes abuse vary widely: among professionals as well as the wider public, people do not agree on what behaviors constitute abuse. Some human service professionals claim that cultural norms that sanction/ support physical punishment are one of the causes of child abuse, and have undertaken campaigns to redefine such norms. In the United States, the National Association of Social Workers has issued statements that even the mildest forms of physical punishment, such as moderate spanking, can lower children’s self-esteem, constitute acts of violence, and teach children that physical force is an acceptable way to resolve conflicts. Against this latter argument, the philosopher Prof. David Benatar points out that one might as well say that fining people teaches that forcing others to give up some of their property is an acceptable way to respond to those who act in a way that one does not like. “If beatings send a message, why don’t detentions, imprisonments, fines, and a multitude of other punishments convey equally undesirable messages?” He adds.

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PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE also known as emotional abuse, which can involve belittling or shaming a child, inappropriate or extreme punishment and the withholding of affection.

CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE is any sexual act between an adult and a child, including penetration, oral sex and forced nudity in front of the adult. According to the (American) National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, in 1997 neglect represented 54% of confirmed cases of child abuse, physical abuse 22%, sexual abuse 8%, emotional maltreatment 4%, and other forms of maltreatment 12%.

A UNICEF report on child well-being stated that the United States and the United Kingdom ranked lowest among industrial nations with respect to the wellbeing of children. This study also found that child neglect and child abuse are far more common in single-parent families than in families where both parents are present.

CAUSES OF CHILD ABUSE

Child abuse is a complex problem which has multiple causes. Understanding the causes of abuse is crucial to addressing the problem of child abuse. Parents who physically abuse their spouses are more likely to physically abuse their children However, it is difficult to know whether marital strife is a cause of child abuse, or if both the marital strife and abuse are caused by tendencies in the abuser.

Substance abuse is a major contributing factor to child abuse. One study found that parents with documented substance abuse, most commonly alcohol, cocaine, and heroin, were much more likely to mistreat their children, and were also much more likely to reject court-ordered services and treatments. Another study found that over two thirds of

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cases of child maltreatment involved parents with substance abuse problems. This study specifically found relationships between alcohol and physical abuse, and between cocaine and sexual abuse. In 2009 CBS News reported that child abuse in the United States had increased during the economic recession. It gave the example of a father who had never been the primary care-taker of the children. Now that the father was in that role, the children began to come in with injuries.

CAUSES OF CHILD ABUSE

Children have that right to be loved. But there are those who suffer child abuse in the very sense of the word. Child abuse could either be physical, mental or sexual abuse to children. This might have certain adverse effects on the child so they must be given extra support and attention physical abuse concerns maltreatments of children in a physical way. This means hurting the children physically, or not giving them proper nutrition. Emotional abuse or mental abuse, on the other hand, is about abuse in children which affects primarily their emotions. This includes saying hurtful words to children, as well as scolding them often that lower their self esteem. Sexual abuse, however, is abuse that concerns the sexual attributes of a child. This is one of the worst cases of child abuse.

Like any other abuse, child abuse also has a cause. There are many causes of child abuse. The most prominent one among the causes is mental illness, as well as psychological problems. The tendency is that people who are not in their right minds, could easily do harm to children, whether intentional or not.

Also, family problems are major causes of child abuse. Parents under the power of drugs could easily hurt their children. Plus, financial problems could invoke parents or other

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members of the family to abuse children as an outlet of their emotions. Stress could also be a root cause of child abuse. It is good to know the cause of abuse on a certain child so that the treatment and the actions could be well defined.

EFFECTS OF CHILD ABUSE (SHORT TERM)

Studies indicate that every day a significant number of children are exposed to serious maltreatment and neglect leading to physical and psychological injury and serious long-term consequences. Researchers are continuously examining the wide range of potential consequences of child abuse and neglect. Mounting evidence suggests that, in addition to the immediate negative effects on children, maltreatment is associated with a host of problems manifested in adolescence and adulthood. Child abuse is not, however, a short-term crisis in a child’s life. Although children are removed from violent homes or leave home to live on their own, the effects of experiencing abuse in their childhood follow them through life. Child abuse can affect all aspects of a child’s life and can spill over in there adult life as well. Effects of child abuse include the following:

PSYCOLOGICAL EFFECTS

Child abuse may permanently alter the psychological well being of a child. Following maltreatment, children are known to display the following problems:

Extreme and repetitive nightmares, Anxiety. Unusually high levels of anger and aggression. Feelings of guilt and shame – for sexually abused victims this can be quite severe, especially if the victim experienced some degree of pleasure during part of the abuse. Sudden phobias, such as a fear of darkness or water.

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Psychosomatic complaints, including stomachaches, headaches, hypochondrias is, fecal soiling, bed wetting and excessive blinking. General fearfulness and a specific fear of others of the same gender as the abuser. Depressive symptoms, long bouts of sadness, social withdrawal. Self-reported social isolation and feelings of stigmatization..

After continued exposure to maltreatment, children may develop further psychological complications:

Significant increase in rates of psychiatric disorders, Dissociation, intrusive thoughts suicidal ideation and more acute phobias, More serious levels of anxiety fear depression, loneliness, anger, hostility and guilt, Distorted cognition, such as chronic perceptions of danger and confusion, illogical thinking, inaccurate images of the world, shattered assumptions about the world and difficulty determining what is real, decreased effectiveness in comprehending complex roles.

PHYSICAL EFFECTS

In addition to the obvious physical injuries, such as broken bones, bruises and scarring, abuse is also related to several additional physical complications for children, including the following:

Children who have suffered serious and chronic neglect are more likely to be smaller and lighter than non-maltreated children, which has been shown to affect long-term health.

Children who are physically abused (or shaken in the case of very young children) may suffer permanent neurological damage, dramatically affecting their future development.

Weight problems – often emerging as eating disorders.

Serious sleeps disturbances and bouts of dizziness when awake.

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Other stress-related symptoms, such as gastrointestinal problems, migraine headaches, difficulty breathing, hypertension, aches, pains and rashes which defy diagnosis and/or treatment, Poor overall health.

BEHAVIORAL CONSEQUENCES

Abused children are known to display the following behavioral problems: Developmental delays, Clinging behavior, extreme shyness and fear of strangers, Troubled socialization with peers – constant fighting or socially undesirable behaviors, such as bullying, teasing or not sharing, Poor school adjustment and disruptive classroom behavior,there is a growing understanding among researchers that child maltreatment is associated with a host of behavioral problems that manifest themselves in adolescence: School-age pregnancy, Self-destructive behaviors such as self-mutilation or burning, Truancy and running away behavior, Delinquency and prostitution. Early use of drugs/alcohol and substance abuse/dependence, Eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia or obesity – primarily among female victims,Suicide and suicide attempts.

Evidence suggests that many of these problems continue into adulthood and become ingrained patterns of behavior. It is believed that in order to deal with the trauma of being abused and neglected, children and youth develop such behaviors as coping strategies. And although these behaviors eventually become self-destructive, they are often extremely difficult to abandon.

EFFECT ON ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE

One of the most destructive consequences of child abuse may be the detrimental effect on

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a child’s school performance. Over and over again, research indicates that abused children demonstrate reduced intellectual functioning and perform very poorly in school. And poor school performance can have serious long-term consequences. Academic failure has been associated with antisocial behavior and quitting school. These behaviors in turn increase the risk of long-term decreased productivity, long-term economic dependence and generally lower levels of satisfaction with life as adults.58 Maltreated children may display the following: Lower overall schools performance test scores and lower language, reading and math scores.

Grade repetitions, disciplinary referrals and a high number of suspensions.

Working and learning at below average levels (as reported by teachers).

Weaker orientation to future vocational and educational goals compared to non-maltreated children.

It is understandable that maltreated children will perform poorly in school. Not only do they face the obvious complications associated with a violent home life, but neglectful and abusive parents are less likely to provide an intellectually stimulating environment for the child, read to the child, supervise homework and generally become involved in their child’s academic life.

EFFECT ON SEXUALITY

In general, abuse adversely affects a child’s concept of sexuality reduces his or her ability to set appropriate boundaries and often instills a fear or negative perception of sex. While the majority of sexual consequences are the result of sexual abuse, other forms of maltreatment can also be sexually destructive. For example, a neglected child may seek

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sexual intimacy very early in life in order to fulfil an unmet need for parental intimacy. This creates a risk for teenage pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. The following are the major sexual consequences of maltreatment reported in the literature:

Engaging in open or excessive masturbation, excessive sexual curiosity and frequent exposure of the genitals.

Simulated sexual acts with siblings and friends, inappropriate sexual behavior such as breast or genital grabbing.

Premature sexual knowledge sexualized kissing in friendships and with parents.

In adolescence and adulthood, maltreated children continue to display sexually maladaptive behavior:

Orgasmic disorders and painful intercourse, Promiscuity, Dissatisfaction with sex and negative attitudes about sex.

These problems are often the result of introducing a sexual component into a parent-child relationship, which affected the child’s sense of sexuality and intimacy. In essence, a child who has suffered sexual abuse can, as a result, have difficulty distinguishing between a sexual and a non-sexual relationship and therefore introduce a sexual element into all relationships.

INTERPERSONAL CONSEQUENCES

Child abuse can interfere with a person’s ability to develop meaningful and appropriate relationships from childhood through to adulthood. Abused and neglected children are consistently rated by their peers as demonstrating socially undesirable behavior. Children displaying multiple psychological and behavioral problems often have a difficult time

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both developing and maintaining healthy relationships. Victimization reduces social competence and limits empathic ability, both of which are necessary to establish satisfying relationships with others. Maltreated children have been known to display the following interpersonal problems:

Insecure attachments to parents and caregivers,loss of close friends, difficulty in trusting others. Relationship problems, such as overly sexualized or overly conflicted relationships. Chronic dissatisfaction with adult relationships and fear of intimacy.

EFFECTS ON SELF PERCEPTION

Parental abuse undoubtedly affects the self-esteem of a child. A lack of interest in a child or a violent attack on a child, for example, will likely lead the child to develop a sense of unworthiness. Maltreatment has been associated with distorted or extremely negative self-images starting in childhood and continuing throughout one’s life. Maltreated children typically view themselves as bad, worthless or unlovable and may develop the following problems:

Extremely low levels of self-esteem, Feelings of being “out of control”, Inaccurate body images which often lead to eating disorders, Overwhelming sense of guilt or self-blame for the abuse, Impairment of a cohesive sense of identity, Self-disgust, self-denigration, self-hatred.

SPIRITUAL CONSEQUENCES

Often, children who have been abused and neglected report having lost their sense of faith, not just a religious belief in a divine being, but also their faith in themselves, other people and the world around them. It is common for maltreated children to display what

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some authors have called a shattered soul or soul pain. Moreover, adults who have experienced maltreatment display less interest and participation in organized religion. Systematic battering, sexual abuse, emotional attacks or the long-term neglect of a child is likely to destroy his or her spirit or enthusiasm for life. While often overlooked in the literature, the shattered soul may prove to be an extremely significant long-term consequence of child maltreatment.

SUBSEQUENT VIOLENCE

Victims of child abuse often become further victimized as adolescents and adults and/or become violent themselves toward their own children and in intimate relationships. According to studies on the intergenerational transmission of child maltreatment, one third of all victims grow up to continue a pattern of seriously inept, neglectful or abusive child rearing as parents; one third do not; and one-third remain vulnerable to the effects of child maltreatment depending upon social stressors in their life. Adults and adolescents who report a history of child maltreatment may demonstrate the following:

Maltreatment of their own children. A history of being a victim of a violent assault by a non-family member during adolescence.

Perpetrating dating violence in adolescence and/or spousal violence in adulthood.

Becoming a victim of an assaultive partner (most often a male abuser) and/or the victim of additional sexual assaults.

CHILD ABUSE A PERMANENT AND LIFELONG TRAUMA

When an orphan or adolescent experience trauma such as family violence, child abuse, or witnesses prolonged violence, several problems arise. These children might experience

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anger, distrust, and fear commitment. Children who live through such childhood trauma often suffer permanently. Extensive studies about adults abused as children investigate the relationships between childhood trauma and problems including uncontrollable anger and a negative attitude. Miller, Villani and Sharfstein all discuss numerous factors that influence violence, including alcohol, violent threats, and a violent past (Miller, p. 61-62; and Sharfstein, p. 2). Miller (1998) presents several abuse and mistreatment studies concerning children who experience family violence at an early age and how this violence leads them to have behavioral problems as adults (p. 62). Child abuse, whether inflicted on orphans or children who live with biological parents, causes distrust, another problem and long lasting effect. Distrust can result with abused children. These children begin to distrust the people closest to them, their family, and this lack of trust carries over into adulthood.

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