Why do some parents beat and abuse their own children and others never do so?
CHILDREN are daily brought to the attention of the public and health officials having been beaten, burned, stabbed, electrically shocked, stamped on, thrown violently against walls or raped — by parents or other adults in charge of them. A great portion of these victims are less than three years of age, and many of them die. All this in our civilized world! Fractured skulls, broken legs and arms, blackened eyes, bruised bodies and whiplashed necks are commonplace. Even hardened law officers often break down emotionally after finding such abused children.
What Has Gone Wrong?
Only a small proportion of parental or adult child abusers are criminal psychopaths. Many abusers after being counseled say they don't want to hurt their children, but somehow they lose control of themselves and do it anyway when childrearing problems or frustrations arise. "You swear you will never raise your kids the way you were raised," said one mother who abused her children, "but it ends up that way because you don't know any other way to do it." Most incidents of child abuse stem from crude and improper attempts at discipline. Parents become provoked by a child's apparent inability to follow instructions, by misbehavior or rebellion. They lose their tempers and punish a child in violent anger or by verbal abuse. To call this child rearing is a tragic misnomer. Numerous physically abused children are permanently damaged, physically and intellectually. Many suffer handicapping emotional disturbances. Others run away from homes and turn to sordid life-styles and crime. Most vicious murderers and rapists were seriously abused children. A spokesman for one organization for the prevention of child abuse says: "The residue of today's child abuse will be seen in the hospital emergency room tomorrow, in the juvenile court in a decade, and in a whole new' future generation of abusing parents and abused children." What is the cause of this evil? "The simplistic lay view that child abuse is caused by parents 'who don't know their own strength' while disciplining their children has been shown to be false," says C. Henry Kempe, M.D., former professor and chairman of the Department of Pediatrics, University of Colorado Medical Center, Denver, Colorado. Child abuse is an improper use of physical or psychological force or discipline on a child, often administered out of uncontrolled emotional whim or ignorance. CHILD ABUSE IS CAUSED BY PARENTAL OR ADULT LACK OF EMOTIONAL CONTROL.
What Research Has Found
Research into the backgrounds of child abusers has discovered that while there is no perfect profile of a child abuser, an adult's potential for child abuse can be estimated. What researchers have found is that most cases of child abuse occur when critical factors come together with sufficient force. Certain parents under duress may say or do something they later see was inappropriate and take steps to avoid losing control again. But repeated child abusers with bad emotional habits in reacting to problems in life and to difficulties with their offspring fail to regain self-control. Following are critical areas that determine a parent's potential for child abuse: • How the Parents Themselves Were Reared. Almost invariably, parents who physically or emotionally abuse their small children were reared in similar manner. Battering parents often say that is how they were raised, and that while they may not always like the results, they know no other way to "keep the kids in line." Abusing parents usually lacked proper imprinting by their parents or other adults with the loving, tender attitudes, knowledge and techniques needed to "mother" or to be a considerate father. Parents who abuse children often have a poor self-image and try to rise above problems and irritations with brutal force and power. Since their own feelings as a child were discounted, they have a strong tendency to discount the importance of others' problems or feelings. Their feelings and problems of the moment are paramount. Many battering parents confess they never obtained from their parents the feeling that they were special, or cherished or worthwhile individuals. Their parents were usually inconsiderate of their feelings. And punishment for infractions of rules seemed to be distinctly excessive. • The Quality of Parental Relations. The mutual support (or lack of it) between mates has great influence on the treatment of the children. The relations between abusing parents are marked by frequent strife and arguments, commonly about child rearing and money matters. There often are recriminations between spouses for failure to live up to responsibilities. Many abusing, feuding parents married young, before they had a chance to prepare for the responsibilities of marriage and children. One parent often feels he or she takes all the load while the other does nothing. These frequent irritations, stresses and dissatisfactions spill over into resentment of children. The childhood background of the person one marries or lives with has strong influence on a family's child-abuse potential. If an adult with a low level of abuse in the background marries someone with good family rearing, the chances of physical child abuse are quite low. If on the other hand, one parent with high child abuse in the background marries someone who is a passive individual, then the risk of child abuse is significantly higher. And if two individuals marry who both have a history of child abuse in their background, then the child abuse potential is very high. • How the Parent Sees the Child. It is important to know how a parent, or even a culture, views children. Are children loved and cherished? Are they wanted or not? Are they to be treated equally and fairly or not? Many abused children were unplanned and unwanted. Numerous of them were conceived out of wedlock, or were the product of a forced marriage. Often only one child of a family is the subject of abuse while the others are not. The potential for child abuse is also influenced by individual or cultural beliefs that tolerate abuse for certain categories of children: e.g., adopted children, illegitimate children, females, retarded or deformed children, or children of a certain temperament. In a family with a high abuse potential, a "good" baby may "luck out" and be treated fairly well; but a fussy one that is more demanding may provoke serious abuse. A child that is perceived as "difficult," or a "troublemaker," or someh9w deficient, is more likely to be subject to abuse. Sometimes a child is more abusively treated because the child reminds a parent of someone, or of some characteristic the parent does not like. • Degree of Family Isolation. Authorities note that abusing parents often have developed attitudes or ways of living that isolate them from receiving or seeking help from others. Extended family ties are often broken down or nonexistent through frequent family relocations, or through feuds with extended family members or neighbors. Abusive mothers often have no close associations, no close friends or social outlets to relieve or reduce child-rearing pressures. Through past experiences with parents or guardians they have come to believe they cannot trust others for help. Therefore they seek none. As a result, frustrations with personal problems or children build up. A limit is reached and the resentful parent ends up lashing out at the children. • Level of Understanding Child Capabilities. Child abusers frequently have a distorted perception of what a child is capable of doing or understanding at a particular stage of its development. They tend to feel a very young child should automatically be more mature in its years than it is actually capable of being. Some parents expect young children to automatically perceive their adult feelings, and to understand and respond as an adult. When the child is not able to perform as expected, the misled or ignorant parent feels insulted by his or her "inferior" offspring and may be triggered into an abusive reaction to "make him grow up." Some mothers grew up foolishly believing babies were to be a " bundle of joy": a clean, cuddly baby who would sleep in their arms, smile at them and give them the love they lacked in their lives. There is often a rude awakening when the baby turns out to be demanding, fussy and smelly, requiring sacrifice and attention at inopportune times. • The Family Crisis Level. Too many problems too often will start to wear down anyone's ability to cope. Families practicing child abuse seem to live life-styles that provoke frequent crises — and they fail to handle the crises wisely. Some make major incidents out of incidents of minor importance. At other times problems are often ignored until they can't be, and then there is an overreaction. Marital problems, financial problems and employment difficulties seem to pile up. Decisions to relocate may be made frequently — causing a sense of family rootlessness. (In some cultures in the developing world child abuse is a rarity. But when these peoples move to urban cultures or strange foreign cultures, they lose traditional family support systems and child abuse becomes a big problem.) Other crises that frequently intrude into some abusing families are frequent health problems or abuse of alcohol and drugs. As family crises and tensions mount, little things like a child not eating right, a soiled bed or a child that is slow to respond to instructions suddenly become a big crisis provoking a parent's abusive response.
Whose Life Is It?
There is an awesome purpose in every human life — an awesome potential in every child's life. Parents and other adults need to know this great purpose and potential so they can guide children — and themselves — toward it. God has made it possible for human beings to have powers of mind no animal has — powers of intellect to reason, think, plan, design and make decisions. God's ultimate purpose in humans is the creation of godly character. Children are not chattel to be abused. Right child rearing is essential to help make this awesome purpose more possible and successful. Children are deeply impressionable clay models. They can be imprinted with right parenting examples and values or imprinted with wrong ones. A parent's first responsibility is to set the right example of how humans ought to live. The parent must also guide and discipline the child until the child in turn is qualified to become a parent and continue the process God is performing. The parent who torments or beats a child in the name of discipline is not, by any stretch of the imagination, properly disciplining a child. A parent who succumbs to fits of rage and lashes out at a child in an uncontrollable outburst of hostility is sowing the seeds of great problems in the future. We speak out in The Plain Truth in the loudest terms against an adult losing his or her temper and striking or shaking a child in uncontrolled anger or rage.
Discipline with Love
Few nations profess to live by God's instructions and laws revealed in the Bible. Many are ignorant of God's purpose for human life. God long ago instructed parents (Deut. 6:5-7, Prov. 22:6, Eph. 6:4) to love their children and to teach them to love God and fellowman. It is obvious parents will be utterly ineffective in. teaching this unless they are themselves doing it. The Scriptures also clearly admonish parents to correct and discipline children in love for wrong actions. Unfortunately, too many view discipline in a negative manner. They have seen so much child abuse that they reject proper discipline altogether. They adopt, instead, a destructively permissive stance in response to their children's wrong attitudes and actions. If a child's attitude and knowledge are not properly corrected when young, the time may come when it is too late to correct further (Prov. 19:18). Corrective instruction and discipline should be applied privately, promptly, fairly and consistently. It should be explained beforehand as to why discipline is being administered. It should never cause bruising or injury to a child. If physical reprimand is called for, it should only be applied to the gluteus maximus — the fatty area of the seat, where one sits down. Use common sense. Never hurt or injure a child. Love and affection must always be shown soon after correction. It shows children your genuine love and concern for them. Discipline for wrong acts or attitudes should never involve pushing or slapping on the face, strapping with a belt buckle, twisting arms, boxing or pulling ears, kicking with feet, hitting about vital organs or any other physically damaging action. If you are a parent and you've made mistakes with your children, if you feel you have fallen short in some way, don't despair. You can drop down on your knees and ask God to forgive your mistakes. Yoil can beseech God to help you have the right attitudes, love and wisdom to teach and discipline your children. It is not too late — ever — to learn and change and grow!
Parents in Need of Help
The good news is that abusive parents can change their behavior — if they are willing to put forth the effort and seek help! Most critical, of course, is admitting abusive behavior and the need for help to cope with problems. Various private organizations and government-funded agencies are set up in many communities to help parents who need assistance to cope with their problems and stop child abuse. Various approaches and programs exist. Parent — help organizations such as Parents Anonymous and others work to keep families intact if at all possible. Their major goal is to break the generation-to-generation chain of problems and attitudes causing child maltreatment. Many of these programs are manned by persons who themselves once abused children but have learned how to constructively deal with their problems and children. They now share their experiences, understanding and successes with others. Many parent-help programs offer emotional support, a listening ear and a friend to call when tensions build up and old abusive patterns want to get control again. Abusing parents who have sought help from these programs have been enabled to change their entire approach to life. Help is as near as your telephone! The vicious child-abuse cycle can be broken with new patterns of thinking and living. Parents who abuse their children have the responsibility to break wrong habits and develop more positive, loving and intelligent ways of coping with problems and child-rearing difficulties. In the United States, child-abuse hotlines are listed in the front pages of most telephone directories. If not, a telephone operator can be of assistance. In other nations, assistance can often be found through social agencies.