“There are generally three parties to child abuse: the abused, the abuser and the bystander.”
― Louise Penny, A Fatal Grace
Recently, it came to my attention that a teacher from my former high school was charged with physically assaulting a student. A friend brought this to my attention saying, “He snapped.” I found myself reading the comments associated with the article posted on Facebook and read things like “I’m on the teachers side, she deserved to get her ass beat,” or “Someone has to teach this child right and wrong” but the worst comment was said over and over again, “My parents beat the shit out of me and I’m fine.“
We know through decades of research that physical abuse and even “just” witnessing physical abuse forever changes the brain of a child (who then grows into an adult).
“Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) include verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, as well as family dysfunction (e.g., an incarcerated, mentally ill, or substance-abusing family member; domestic violence; or absence of a parent because of divorce or separation). ACEs have been linked to a range of adverse health outcomes in adulthood, including substance abuse, depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and premature mortality” (2009)
Naturally, some children are more resilient than others and not everyone is impacted the same or suffers the same degree of symptoms. But, the problem is that enough people suffer the life-long consequences of abuse that it is a public health problem.
The total lifetime economic burden resulting from new cases of fatal and nonfatal child maltreatment in the United States in 2008 is approximately $124 billion in 2010 dollars. This economic burden rivals the cost of other high profile public health problems, such as stroke and Type 2 diabetes (Fang et al., 2012).
Simply put, it is never okay to physically strike another person. This is particularly relevant with children given the sensitive and emotional state of the developing brain. When I make this comment, I am often met with the response, “You’re not a mom you don’t understand that it’s sometimes necessary.” I will concede that I do not know the fear, frustration, and vulnerability associated with being a parent but I will not concede that I don’t understand. I say this because I spend much of my days reminding adults and children that they are safe and okay because they endured some form of maltreatment.
You see, when you hit a child for making a mistake they become fearful (and anxious) and not just fearful of you, they become fearful of everyone and everything. The child and adolescent brains are not rationale and logical. The brain does not finish developing until 24-25 years old (this is why you can’t rent a car and why your insurance goes down at that time). The child brain cannot make the connection that I colored on the wall thus I got my butt beat. The child brain says the person that is supposed to protect me just hurt me and how am I supposed to know (for the rest of my life) who is safe. The connection may also be made that to be loved means to hurt. They may also grow up and perpetuate the same fear and pain on others.
“The life histories of 43 men on death row were examined in a qualitative analysis of the multiple intermediary factors in the cycle of violence. Severe and multiple forms of abuse were endemic in this sample of men. Abuse was typically multigenerational and almost universally linked to intergenerational substance abuse. After experiencing abuse, the majority of these men manifested extensive developmental problems, from severe difficulties in school to chronic relationship and occupational problems. For most, the transition to adulthood was seriously compromised” (David Lisak and Sara Beszterczey, 2007)
I don’t know what happened at my old high school. I don’t know the details and I don’t need to. The teacher should not have assaulted the child. Period. The child did not deserve to get hit no matter what she did. Period. No child, no person, no animal deserves to be physically assaulted ever. I understand that many people will disagree with this assertion for various reasons. This is a point that I refuse argue or debate.
If you were physically punished as a child, those events did influence you. For so many people, this is something they do not want to talk about or deal with. Culturally (and worldwide) we do a poor job teaching parenting skills. Most parents are doing the best they can with what they have in terms of parenting tools. But, as woman once said to me, you have to be willing to be vulnerable enough to still learn new things. There are a number of effective and healthy parenting interventions that do not involve maltreatment. In fact, spanking does not work! It may work in the short-term but it will only cause more problems down the line. Spanking, slapping, and hitting are not effective interventions. They do not work.
What is most devastating, is that the children that act out the worst often need the most love. They just don’t know how to safely communicate that they need this.
“A growing body of research has shown that spanking and other forms of physical discipline can pose serious risks to children, but many parents aren’t hearing the message.
“It’s a very controversial area even though the research is extremely telling and very clear and consistent about the negative effects on children,” says Sandra Graham-Bermann, PhD, a psychology professor and principal investigator for the Child Violence and Trauma Laboratory at the University of Michigan. “People get frustrated and hit their kids. Maybe they don’t see there are other options.”
Many studies have shown that physical punishment — including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain — can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children. Americans’ acceptance of physical punishment has declined since the 1960s, yet surveys show that two-thirds of Americans still approve of parents spanking their kids.
But spanking doesn’t work, says Alan Kazdin, PhD, a Yale University psychology professor and director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic. “You cannot punish out these behaviors that you do not want,” says Kazdin, who served as APA president in 2008. “There is no need for corporal punishment based on the research. We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying this is a horrible thing that does not work.” (Smith, 2012)