Family Abuse on Children the


These companies have achieved this by operating child care centers (Harris, 1993, p. 429-433).

However, working towards the economic and material well-being of all sections of society is not the only magic bullet needed to ensure that children are brought up in a caring, non-abusive family environment. For, as observed earlier, cultural norms need to be taken into consideration as well. The fact is that society and culture, in many ways almost glorifies violence. One only needs to watch a few hours of television, or read a few best sellers to take cognizance of the fact. Indeed, adults and children alike are constantly being exposed to violence in one form or the other. While, no doubt, a democratic society must allow for freedom of expression, it is important that social institutions such as family, religion, educational institutions, and the media exercise a moderating influence by consciously educating citizens, especially children, on the harmful effects of violence.

Of course, human nature instinctively uses anger and aggression as tools to control or defend a perceived hostile environment. But unless such reactions are controlled, families and society will eternally be caught in a vicious cycle of violence begetting violence. One way of breaking that cycle is for society to consciously stop rewarding male aggression by dispelling the historical myth surrounding macho behavior and physical brute strength. In fact, it would be enormously beneficial if new role models of strength could be developed. For instance, if the very social emphasis on strength could move away from physical to emotional control power, it could serve as the new social ideal to be aspired to. This is perhaps the kind of radical change Witt referred to in his "conflict theory of family violence."

The need for such a radical change in the external socioeconomic and cultural environment becomes even more evident on studying the effects of abusive family environments on children.

Effects of Family Abuse on the Psychological Development of Children

Usually, the phrase "family violence," or "child abuse" brings images of physical or sexual assault to mind. This is hardly surprising given that this is the only form of family abuse that has hitherto invited social and legal intervention. The fact is, however, that family abuse occurs in many forms, each of which can negatively affect the psychological well-being and healthy development of children. Jones & McCurdy (1992, p. 201) categorize four common types of maltreatment: physical abuse; sexual abuse; physical neglect; and emotional maltreatment. It is also important to note that an abusive family environment affects a child, irrespective of whether the child is directly victimized or not.

Further, though it may be commonly inferred that physical and sexual abuse are more likely to damage a child's physiological as well as psychological well-being, the fact is that the apparently milder forms of abuse can extract a severe toll as well. Indeed, there are media reports that reveal the severe consequences of physically and emotionally neglecting a child. Take, for example, the case of 12-year-old Daniel, whose mother kept him away from school for 45 days as his school mates were tormenting him. Ironically, the mother was working as a teacher's assistant in the same school. Yet, the mother seems to have chosen to keep the child at home instead of resolving the conflict situation in school. For 45 days, Daniel was left at home, while his mother worked 60 hours, a week. Obviously suffering from psychological problems, the child spent most of his time nestled inside his closet, until the day, he committed suicide. Post this incident, a statewide law was passed requiring school reporting of bullying incidences to parents (Paley, Oct. 2003). Though, in this case, the state did take action in terms of attempting to mitigate at least one of the causes behind Daniel's death, reading between the lines, it appears that Daniel's death was more a consequence of parental neglect rather than any incidence of bullying at school.

Daniel's case highlights one other critical fact, which is that family abuse does not seem to discriminate on the basis of education or socioeconomic status. For, in Daniel, there is a case of a teacher's child suffering from physical and emotional neglect. Daniel's case also highlights the importance of conducting research to examine the incidence and effects of family abuse among the more educated and elite strata of society. Currently, this seems to be a major gap in the wide body of literature on the subject of child abuse.

Daniel's story makes it evident that family abuse in any form can result in devastating consequences for children. This is true even if the child is merely a witness and not a direct victim. Research literature on the subject suggests that children who witness family violence are more prone to deviant behaviors such as bullying, physical aggression, cheating, and lying. Such children also exhibit symptoms of depression and anxiety, in addition. In fact, the effects of witnessing family violence on children's behavior has been personally observed by the author of this paper, while working at a domestic violence shelter. Children of abused mothers at the shelter exhibited the range of behaviors described above, and were hard to manage as their responses were so unpredictable. They would be quiet and reserved one minute, and lash out in anger the next.

The behavioral observations described above are also borne out by Stiles (2002, p. 2-7). In addition, Stiles states that the deviant behavior of children who witness domestic violence extends to the school environment, leading to poor academic performance and problems with social relationships. The author analyzes the root causes of such behavioral outcomes as a feeling of low self-worth, and self-blame, resulting from the witnessing of abuse in the family environment. It is also disturbing to note that such children suffer from somatic complaints such as headaches and stomachaches. The findings presented by Stiles are useful in corroborating the evidence from other studies, though it must be mentioned that the author's observations are generalized, without attempting to look for impact of variables such as socioeconomic status and differences in gender.

The fact is, as the research study conducted by Lemmey (2001) shows, there are age and gender differences in the effect of family abuse on children's behavior. Further, there is a link between the severity of the abuse witnessed with the severity of child behavioral problems. Using a descriptive framework, Lemmey interviewed 83 women in a criminal justice agency serving abused women. Two questionnaires were administered, the Severity of Violence Against Women Scale (SVAWS) and Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). The results were then analyzed using correlational procedures to investigate the relationship between the form, frequency, and severity of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and child behavioral problems. The study, though limited by self-reports of the abused mother, nevertheless found that children of abused women exhibit more behavioral problems than the norm. Behavioral problems reported included nightmares, nervous movements, picking at body, and somatic complaints such as headaches and nausea. Further, the study established that that the effects of family violence on girls is more than boys, and affects younger children more. The research also examined for differences in internalizing (withdrawal, depression, anxiety) and externalizing behaviors (delinquency, aggression). And though no significant difference was found with internalizing and externalizing behaviors, the study substantiates that increasing physical violence experienced by the mother is associated with increasing internalizing behavioral problems in the child.

One point of interest in the literature reviewed by Lemmey (2001, cited Fantuzzo & Lindquist,) is the finding that "male witnesses to IPV are more likely to exhibit externalizing problems, whereas female witnesses of IPV are more likely to exhibit internalizing problems." This fact can be linked back to the earlier observation about cultural stereotypes of male aggression, and therefore, serves to reiterate the importance of society developing new role models of male strength. Indeed, this can be termed almost a critical mission given estimates that in the United States, 10 million children witness the punching, kicking, stabbing, or strangling of the child's parent, most commonly the mother (Lemmey, cited Carlson & Humphreys, 2001).

The statistics quoted above are shocking enough, but the severity of the problem faced by children in abusive family environments is likely to be multiplied many times over if all the types of child abuse are taken into account. The magnitude of the problem perhaps is one reason why child abuse is increasingly receiving attention from the media. Of course, social norms have also changed to the extent that families are not as hesitant to come out in the open with their problems. This is an encouraging trend, as it will hopefully serve to raise societal consciousness about the problem and lead to a more concerted effort to prevent the problem from occurring at all.

Currently, however, it appears that social interventions, when they occur, are more reactive in nature. One horrific example of such reactive interventions is the case of Vanessa and Ray Jackson,…