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What is Child Abuse?
Childhood Lost
By Barrington H. Brennen, 2003, 2020

Question: Dear Sir: What is child abuse?

Answer: Dear friend, Child abuse occurs when a parent, guardian or care giver mistreats or neglects a child, resulting in injury, or significant emotional or psychological harm, or serious risk of harm to the child. The challenge we have in The Bahamas is that there are too many parents who refuse to admit that they are abusing their children. Too many parents who feel they have the right to hurt, scar, shame, belittle, and embarrass their so called unruly children. These childrenís spirits are being eaten away bit by bit by stubborn, ignorant parents, leaving only a shell of an angry person.

Many parents and other adults argue that what is being called abuse today was in fact not abuse decades ago or was at least accepted as healthy punishment. These same parents become frustrated and unable to deal with their unruly children. In frustration, they become either physically or emotionally abusive toward their children or they become extremely passive and permissive, allowing their children to get away with anything. In the end, they blame society because it has taught that "they should not beat the child." To strengthen their abusive arm of punishment, they hastily quote Proverbs 13:24: "He that spareth the rod hateth his son."

This is a total misconception. That fact is that child abuse was always child abuse. We were just ignorant decades ago. Children have been abused for centuries.  During the Middle Ages children were considered just talented pets and were thrust into adulthood at age 11. These children had to fight for survival. Countless adults today carry the emotional and physical scars they received during their childhood from their parents. Yet, they still defend the "good old days" method of parenting.

Secretly many of these parents do not want to give their children the same kind of treatment. However, they know no other way because their parents never taught them. Some of these adults have become permissive parents by refusing to treat their children the way there were treated. Since they were not taught how to parent effectively and deal with rebellious, naughty children, they become frustrated and eventually lash out through shouts and screams, and occasionally through passionate blows by the hand or an convenient instrument nearby. There are other parents who are convinced that parents are to show power and authority over their disobedient children by accompanying every command with a slap or passionate, angry hit to the child.

Many parents argue that what is wrong with our children today is that they are not getting enough physical punishment. In defending their traditional childhood, they say "the beatings never hurt us." They talk about how their parents were so strict, or would "thank their parents" for inflicting such pain when they were young. Although we know that not all physical punishments and other methods of discipline of the old days were wrong, yet the without a doubt many of the parents decades ago did in fact physically and emotionally abuse their children. Since no one shouted or complained decades ago, we argue that the old tradition or punishment was good.

I challenge many of the readers to enter the dark closets of their personal history and pull out the scary skeletons of pain, shame, belittlement, and disgrace. Decades ago many children were not allowed to admit pain. They were not to ask questions, or give their opinions. In reality they were told "shut up" or "been seen and not heard," "stop crying." I believe that one reason why it is so hard to change the tradition of abusive parenting is that many parents are not being honest with themselves. They have been taught to cover-up and deny taught to cover-up and deny for decades. Hence, the tradition of child abuse continues.

I do not want you to think that the only form of child abuse is the misuse of physical discipline on a child. In reality in The Bahamas, common types of child abuses are sexual, neglect, and emotional abuse.

Physical abuse, is the deliberate application of force to any part of a childís body, which results or may results in non-accidental injury. It may involve hinting a child a single time, or it may involve a pattern of incidents. Physical abuse also includes behavior such as shaking, choking, bitting, kicking, bring or poisoning a child, holding a child under water, or any other harmful or dangerous use of force or restraint. Child physical abuse is usually corrected to physical punishment or is confused with child discipline.

Child sexual abuse occurs when a child is used for sexual purposes by an adult or adolescent. It involves exposing a child to any sexual activity or behavior. Sexual abuse most often involves fondling and may include inviting a child to be touched sexually. Other forms of sexual abuse include sexual intercourse, juvenile prostitution, and sexual exploitation through pornography. Sexual abuse is inherently abusive emotionally and is often accompanied by separate and more direct forms of psychological abuse or other forms of mistreatment.

Neglect occurs when a childís parents of other care givers are not providing essential requisites to a childís emotional, psychological and physical development.

Physical neglect occurs when a childís needs of food, clothing, shelter, cleanliness, medical care and protection from harm and not adequately met.

Emotional neglect occurs when a childís need to feel loved, wanted, safe and worthy is not met. Emotional neglect can range from the context of the abuser simply being unavailable to that in which the abuser openly respects the child. While a case of physical assault is more likely to come to the attention of public authorities, neglect can represent and equally serious risk to a child.

Emotional abuse is usually found in the context of along-term problem in a parentís treatment of a child. It is often a part of a pattern of family stress and dysfunctional parenting. Emotional abuse frequently coexists with other types of abuse. Constantly insulting, humiliating or rejecting a child, or saying that a child is "stupid" or "bad" can harm a childís sense of worth and self-confidence.

Dear reader, it is now time that we end the long tradition of child abuse in our country. Letís be honest in our country. Letís take an honest retrospective look at our past. I believe that one way to end the cycle of crime in our country is to stop abusing our children. Let us give our children back their childhood.

Barrington Brennen is a marriage and family therapist.  Send questions or comments to question@soencouragement.org or call 242-327-1980 for professional help.  Or WhatsApp 242-477-4002



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April 26, 2000, TAGnet/NetAserve / Network Solutions

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