WHY do some parents beat and abuse their own children? Is permissiveness the answer to this growing, heartbreaking tragedy?
THE TRUE story of what is happening to many little children across the United States and Britain, and around the world, is more appalling than any horror movie. Increasingly, children have been ruthlessly beaten or sadistically assaulted — by parents or guardians. Instruments of abuse have ranged from bare fists to belt buckles, from knives to electrical cords, from hot pokers to open flames, from matches to cigarette lighters, from bottles to broom handles, from hot liquids or pans to appliances and chair legs. Children are daily brought into hospitals, having been beaten, burned, raped, stabbed, strangled, electrically shocked, stamped on, or thrown violently against walls. Fractured skulls, broken legs and arms, blackened eyes and horribly bruised bodies are commonplace. Some have been chained in attics, tied to beds, and even left hanging by their feet from the ceiling. Sounds like an unreal nightmare. Fiendish. But these crimes are occurring today — committed by parents.
Facts "Swept Under the Carpet"
Said a social worker several years ago: "Child abuse is one of the dirtiest pieces of dirt being swept under the American rug." But the problem is by no means limited to the United States. Some years ago an official charged that cruelty to the young in Britain is common to every class, income group and area of the realm. One study estimated that seven out of every 100 British children are so blatantly abused or neglected that social authorities have had to intervene. Such tragedies have been, and still are, common in certain poor, overpopulated areas of the world, where children are often abandoned to die of exposure, legally bartered and sold, or mutilated to enhance their appeal as beggars. In the United States, where perhaps child abuse has been studied in greatest detail, many authorities view the problem as one of staggering proportions. The visible cases are merely the tip of a hidden iceberg. Says Dr. David G. Gil, professor of social policy at Brandeis University: "Estimates of various investigators range from a few thousand to several million incidents per year" (Violence against Children, 1970, p. 12). John W. Gardner, former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, declared: "According to the most conservative estimates, at least 10,000 children each year [in the U. S.] are so severely mistreated as to require hospitalization. And there may be as many as a million who are subjected to some form of abuse." Gardner pointed out that most of the seriously abused children are under three years of age. A great many who die of beatings are infants less than one year old. Sadly, the vast majority of child abuse cases are never reported publicly. And all too often these children bear the life-long scars, physically and emotionally, resulting from beatings they receive from their own parents!
More Common than Deaths Due to Disease
Says Dr. Ray E. Helfer of the University of Colorado School of Medicine: "More children under 5 die every year from injuries inflicted by a parent or guardian than from tuberculosis, whooping cough, polio, measles, diabetes, rheumatic fever and appendicitis combined." He estimates that at least 60,000 children are willfully beaten, burned, smothered and starved every year in the United States. Bad as the problem is, it appears to be growing worse. The incidence of child abuse appears to be increasing — reported cases in the United States rose from 9,563 In 1967 to 10,931 in 1968. Although this dramatic increase may partly reflect the growing concern about child abuse, rather than simply an increase in occurrences, it is still significant. Dr. Edward Lenoski, assistant professor of pediatrics at the USC School of Medicine, estimated that in recent years child abuse has gone up threefold. Professor Francis Camps, a British pathologist, told the Royal Medico-Psychological Association that official figures show a definite rise in cases of violence against children in recent years. He compared the increase in child abuse to the rise in drug addiction and violence in general in modern society. Child abuse is not a new phenomenon. It is as old as the story of mankind. But, under the stress of modern living, in our modern violence prone generation, more and more parents are neglecting proper child training and are then "losing their cool" — blowing up at their own children, and venting their unexpurgated wrath upon them. Even the average person, put in a social and psychological situation conducive to violent behavior, and subjected to marital discord, financial stress, and a crying, wailing, disobedient baby, could do the "unthinkable" and turn upon his own child. Why do parents commit such atrocities? What are the causes of child abuse? And what can be done about it?
Why Does It Happen
What provokes parents to beat, starve, smother, drown, chain, abandon, attack and assault their own children? Some authorities state that such parents have a negative approach toward their children. Dr. Vincent J. Fontana puts his finger on a very significant aspect of the problem. He says parents who brutalize their children generally are emotionally insecure, are under financial stress, are separated or divorced, have problems with alcoholism or perversion, etc. He pointed out that such parents actually need as much help as their children! Most incidents of child abuse stem from crude and improper attempts at discipline. Parents become provoked by the child's apparent inability to follow orders, his misbehavior, or rebellion. They lose their tempers and punish their children in violent anger. To call this child rearing is a tragic misnomer. In a comprehensive survey of all child-abuse reports for 1967 and 1968, the United States Children's Bureau found that nearly 63 percent of the cases involved an adult response to a
More children under five die every year from injuries inflicted by a parent or guardian than from tuberculosis, whooping cough, polio, measles, diabetes, rheumatic fever and appendicitis combined." Dr. Ray E. Helfer University of Colorado School of Medicine
specific act of a child. Seventy-three percent involved "inadequately controlled anger of the perpetrator" (Gil, Violence Against Children, p. 126). Such parents have a lot to learn about properly rearing their own flesh-and-blood offspring and about themselves.
Another vital aspect of child abuse concerns undesired pregnancies. In the United States, between 16 and 20 percent of all first-time brides are pregnant when they go to the altar. But 40 percent of all teen-age brides go into the marriage ceremony pregnant, says Dr. Alan F. Guttmacheri former director of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at New York's Mt. Sinai Hospital. These were usually unwanted and unplanned pregnancies resulting in unwanted children. Says Dr. C. Henry Kempe, pediatrician at the University of Colorado School of Medicine: "Not infrequently the beaten infant is a product of an unwanted pregnancy, a pregnancy which began before marriage, too soon after marriage, or at some other time felt to be extremely inconvenient" (JAMA, 181, 1962).
Battered Babies Become Battering Parents
Dr. Brandt F. Steele, one of Dr. Kempe's original colleagues, and Dr. Carl B. Pollock, in a study of 60 families with battered children, discovered a remarkable fact: All the parents who battered children were abused or neglected by their own parents! As children, all had experienced inhuman parental demands, constant criticism and abuse. This distinct correlation between abused children and their abused parents is perhaps the most significant finding of a number of studies. Said Dr. James Apthorp of the University of Southern California's School of Medicine, abused children often become brutal parents, the violence repeating itself through generations of a single family. Although family stress, economic deprivation, and related factors are often involved, virtually all the abusing parents among the 60 families studied by Drs. Steele and Pollock had been physically or emotionally abused when they were children. Ironically, therefore, it is often the victims of child abuse who turn out to be the child abusers of the following generation. They have a selfish concern for their own needs, but are insensitive to the ebb and flow of the infant's needs. This is a "role reversal" where the parents act like needy children and expect their children to supply them with the desired comfort and love! Thus they expect their own children to provide that which their parents did not provide. As one mother said: "I have never felt really loved all my life. When the baby was born, I thought he would love me. When he cried, it meant he didn't love me. So I hit him." Such parents may be very sincere in wanting to provide their children a proper home environment; but, not having been reared correctly themselves, they really don't know where to begin. They are incapable of giving their youngsters security, safety, affection and love, because they have never experienced this themselves.
Child Abuse Studies
The comprehensive, nationwide study conducted by Dr. David G. Gil and his associates for the U. S. Children's Bureau in 1967 and 1968 discovered several notable factors In this connection. First, about one third of the abused children were non-white. Since only 15 percent of children under age 18 in the United States in 1967 were non-white, this meant that child abuse cases were more prevalent among minorities. Sociologists believe this is due to the higher level of fatherless homes, large families, and socioeconomic deprivation among these groups. Interestingly, families with four or more children suffered nearly twice as much child abuse as the national average. The educational level of abusive parents is fairly low, overall. There were some college graduates among the abusive parents, but the vast majority had from 9-12 years of schooling. It was also found that only 52.5 percent of the fathers were employed throughout the year. At the time of the abuse incident unemployment among the fathers ran about three times as high as the national average. Also, it was discovered that nearly 4 families in 10 that had incidents of child abuse were on public assistance. Altogether, nearly 60 percent of the families had received aid from public-assistance agencies during or prior to 1967. These discoveries are significant. They reveal a general pattern which prevails in abusive families. The parents tend to be uneducated. They tend to be poverty-stricken, or nearly so. The family often suffers from a broken-home environment. However, don't make the mistake of thinking that this is only a ghetto problem. Many child abusers are financially well off, and a number of them have higher education!
Authorities in Confusion
Authorities are divided on what should be done to correct the problem of child abuse. Says David Gil: "Disagreement among scholars and professionals continues to exist with regard to nearly every aspect of this phenomenon — its scope, its nature, and measures for dealing with it" (Gil, op. cit., p. 48). In fact, psychiatrist Norman Polansky, an experienced therapist, social scientist and researcher at the University of Georgia, in a report to the Joint Commission on Mental Health for Children, stated: "Our ignorance regarding the problems of child abuse and child neglect is, in the year 1968, not quite total, but it is severe enough to be inexcusable.... Finally, we do not know how to 'treat' either of these social conditions in the sense of bringing about enduring change in the parents involved with much consistency, and with any efficiency. Other than that, we are scientifically in an excellent position" (ibid., p. 43). Many "solutions" have been suggested, among them the elimination of all physical discipline, rejection of corporal punishment of children and elimination of poverty from society. Family planning programs, with family-life education and counseling programs for adolescents and adults in preparation for marriage and child rearing have also been suggested — along with a nationwide community health service to promote mental health for everyone. Careful consideration would convince anyone that certainly it would be good to eliminate poverty. All would agree that right educational guidance is necessary for all would-be young married couples. But would we all agree as to just what that educational program should entail? The subject of corporal punishment is also fraught with emotion. Many people, seeing the incidence of child abuse, leap to the conclusion that parents should never use any form of corrective discipline. But total permissiveness in child rearing is equally as bad as a cruel temper-tantrum approach. What is the right approach?
The RIGHT APPROACH to Child Rearing
Many families never seem to get the right balance in child rearing. They go to one extreme or the other — the extreme of actual brutality, or the extreme of permissiveness and lack of proper controls. The right approach to child rearing is the BALANCED approach. In the long run, the effects of "no discipline" are just as severe as the effects of over-discipline. For example, suppose your little 18-month-old boy wasn't taught to obey your instructions. For a moment your attention was distracted from him, and he toddled into the street. You saw him, and yelled — "STOP! — stay out of the street." But he just looked at you, kept toddling, to be hit and killed by an automobile. He had not been taught to obey your command of "stop!" This tragic example illustrates the point. Children NEED to be taught to OBEY their parents. They need a combination of positive instruction and education, combined with LOVING discipline and punishment when they disobey. It's for the child's safety and well-being. Parents need to teach their children to come when called, to put toys away, to eat that which they should, and to LISTEN to instructions. It is not a simple matter, and parents need to be patient and persevering in giving such instruction. But the positive methods of teaching and instruction, followed by swift, never-failing and suitable discipline for infractions, is the only workable combination! The facts show that children reared this way tend to become the best behaved, most orderly, friendly, outgoing, and loving children — because their parents care enough about them to take time with them. In the long run, such children become respectful, polite, well-mannered, and friendly. Friends and neighbors will be amazed at the sparkling behavior of your children.
How to Discipline
There is never any excuse for parents to lose their tempers at the misbehavior of their own children. Parents who lose their tempers, and punish their children in ANGER, or hatred, are unqualified to even be parents. How can parents expect to teach their children self-discipline and self-control, unless they themselves exhibit it? Unfortunately, most parents punish their children only when they feel driven to do it — as a last resort. By that time, chances are, the parents have lost a measure of self-control and lash out in frustration toward the child. They have waited too long — let the problem get out of hand. Then they EXPLODE in anger. Rather, effective discipline should always be administered at the time of the offense, and in proportion to the severity of the infraction — and it should be administered out of concern for the child, thinking of the child's welfare. A child should NEVER be bruised or injured! But that is not all. Once the discipline is administered, the child should be made to know that he is completely forgiven and is now in the good graces of the parent. When discipline is correctly given, parents are usually surprised at how quickly the child will repent of his wrong action, say he is sorry, and even throw his arms around Mom's or Dad's neck. The important thing that any parent, or parent-to-be, must remember is that if he correctly applies discipline, and also shows positive love and instruction in the home during the formative years of the children, his children will not grow up to be wild, fractious, rebellious, hostile or delinquent. "As the twig is bent, the tree will grow," is an old adage, but a true one. On the other hand, if parents fail to properly apply discipline and loving instruction within their family, then in later years society itself will have to do the job they neglected — only with much greater severity and harshness!
One of the major causes of "battered babies," today, is a general widespread lack of right instruction in child rearing. What can you do about it? If you take this problem seriously — if you feel a deep responsibility as a parent or parent-to-be — then take note. Ambassador College has been deeply concerned about proper child rearing for many years. We have published a 143-page book on this vitally important subject. Some of the chapter titles are: "What Is a Child?" "Criminals Are Made, Not Born!" "You Can Punish Your Children — In Love!" "How to Get Results!" and "Your Children At Play." No parent can afford to be without this vital instruction — it should be read in every home. Here is a free copy of the book for you The Plain Truth About Child Rearing.