This is the second part of our two-part article discussing the issue of emotional abuse of children by parents or caregivers. Many of the readers of part one commented that the article asked the question about “where is that line that defines emotional abuse?”, but failed to provide a clear answer.
The simplest answer is there is no clear line, in the same way that we look at physical child abuse or child sexual abuse. In most cases, emotional abuse involves a pattern of overly critical, negative or harmful behavior over time and does not result from a single incident — although it could if it was severe enough. But if you shout at your child out of frustration, one time — that is not emotional abuse. But if it’s the only tool in your toolkit, so to speak, you may have a problem.
What can a mom or dad (or other caregiver) do if they wonder about their own parenting behavior?
First, recognize the types of emotional abuse that can occur. This list from the American Humane Society provides a helpful starting point. Again, remember that it involves a consistent pattern of behavior over time.
Second, and maybe most importantly, parents can take action to prevent emotional abuse. The list below, also from the American Humane Society, has helpful suggestions:
Parenting is one of life’s most magical experiences….but it can also be one of the most stressful. Get educated about the issue of emotional abuse. If you feel like you may be crossing the line, identify steps you can take to be more positive, patient and supportive of your child. If you still feel like you need help, contact Parents’ Anonymous, which offers confidential support groups and other services for stressed-out parents in New Jersey: 800-THE KIDS (800-843-5437).
In the last week, a bit more information has surfaced in the case in the NFL involving the two Miami Dolphin players, Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Incognito has now admitted that, while he did not intend it that way, that much of his behavior towards Martin may have “crossed the line”, that it was embarrassing, and that it was perceived by Martin as being emotionally abusive. The case can serve as a valuable wake-up call for parents, to look in the mirror and assess your own behavior toward your children. A little quiet self-reflection now could prevent more serious consequences in the future.
In the past few days, one of the biggest stories in the media, even bigger than electing a new Mayor in New York City or the re-election of Governor Christie here in NJ, is the case of Jonathan Martin, an offensive lineman with the Miami Dolphins. Martin left the team after accusations of threatening behavior by another offensive lineman with the team, Richie Incognito. Although some of the descriptions of Incognito’s actions against Martin have been described as being “over the top, cruel, and crude,” other NFL players have defended Incognito as simply acting the same as hundreds of other NFL players have done for decades…that the type of “hazing” that is being described is deeply ingrained into the NFL locker room. And many people from many backgrounds have also weighed in, saying that the definition of “bullying” that can devastate child victims, does not apply to 300-pound grown men being paid millions of dollars to play a violent game.
But the case also highlights the difficult challenge of understanding or defining what constitutes “emotional abuse”…in this case, not involving grown men on an NFL football team, but of parents raising their own children. What is emotional abuse? Nearly every parent has, at some point, lost their temper with their children and yelled at them in anger. But is that abuse? If it happens rarely, of course not. But if it happens frequently, where is the line? Parents may criticize their children for failing to do something, from cleaning up their room, to making a poor grade at school. Dealing with criticism is part of life and children, like everyone else, must learn from both their accomplishments and their failures. But if a parent’s only tool is criticism, or does so in a consistent and mean-spirited way that belittles a child, is that abuse? Where is the line? Can it hurt children in ways that affect their futures?
Research shows that like other forms of child abuse, emotional abuse can leave permanent scars on a child for the rest of their life, including increasing the risk for mental health problems, substance abuse, other chronic health problems, and problems with relationships and jobs.
Why does emotional abuse happen? Again, it usually happens due to similar factors associated with other forms of child abuse and neglect, including a lack of knowledge about positive parenting and healthy child development, a lack of positive role models in one’s own life, and overwhelming stress caused by life’s many challenges – a lack of money, relationship problems, job stress or mental health issues. Any one of these factors can increase a parent’s frustration with their child, but alcohol use, added to stress, can be the volatile fuel that explodes frustration into true abusive behavior.
All parents should be aware of the harm that can happen to children from emotional abuse….but also understand that emotional abuse involves a pattern of persistent parental behavior, not an isolated incident. Studies show how remarkably resilient children can be, even after experiencing traumatic events. But research also shows that children’s healthy physical, emotional and brain development can be permanently marred by incidents of abuse and children who experience such trauma are more likely to repeat the behavior as adults themselves, and experience increased risk for a wide variety of health problems as they move from childhood to adolescence to adulthood.
What are the types of emotional abuse that can help parents review their own behavior and see where it fits? Come back next week for a second part of this article that will define the types of behavior that constitute emotional abuse, and more importantly, will include ideas that every parent can use to prevent emotional abuse.
For more information please visit: www.preventchildabusenj.org.
“I saw a mother spanking one of my students, is that child abuse?” “A friend of mine leaves her toddler home alone whileshe goes to work, is that neglect?” People are sometimes unsure of what exactly denotes child abuse. Because the definition of child abuse may be considered unknown territory for many people, they may rationalize abusive behavior as discipline techniques, allowing actual cases of child abuse to go unreported.
Federal law defines child abuse and neglect as:
“Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm”
The State of New Jersey adds that this abuse or neglect is considered child abuse or neglect when inflicted on children ages 18 or younger by a parent or caregiver. Unfortunately, this definition is not widely known and people often have incorrect information when assessing abusive behavior.
Some common misconceptions around child abuse are:
Child abuse doesn’t happen in good families. Yes, it does. Child abuse can happen to anyone, anywhere, regardless of socioeconomic status, race or culture. Everyone suffers from stress and frustrations at some point in their lives, which is a risk factor for committing child abuse.
Most child abusers are strangers. Wrong. Data shows that most abusers are family members and in the case of child sexual abuse, known to the child and his/her family.
It’s only abuse if it’s violent. Wrong, again. There are many forms of abuse that do not involve any physical attacks against children, such as emotional abuse and neglect,
The major forms of child maltreatment as outlined in the federal definition are: physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse and sexual abuse.
Physical abuse is described as physical harm or injury to a child, regardless of intent. Signs of this type of abuse include unexplained bruises, burns, fractures, or abrasions as well as extreme aggressiveness or withdrawal. Physically abused children may also be afraid to go home or be around their parents or other adults. When making the distinction between abuse and discipline, it is important to note that with physical abuse, the child is unable to predict the parent’s behavior; parents are lashing out in anger in an effort to assert control rather than lovingly teaching their child, and are using fear to control their child.
Neglect is the failure of a parent or caregiver to provide the basic needs for their child. This includes a failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, education or medical care for their child though they are in a financial position to do so. Similar to physical abuse, neglect may not be intentional. Parents sometimes become physically or mentally unable to care for their children properly. Signs of neglected children include hunger, poor hygiene, unattended physical problems or medical needs, begging, stealing food, staying late in school and constant fatigue.
Emotional Abuse involves behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development and sense of self. Examples of this form of abuse are rejection, constant criticism and withholding love and affection. Children experiencing this abuse may exhibit symptoms of conduct disorders, habit disorders, or neurotic traits. They may also act more mature or younger for their age.
Sexual Abuse involves sexual activities, such as fondling, penetration, rape, indecent exposure and exploitation, by a parent or caregiver on a child. Physical contact is not always necessary in sexual abuse. Just exposing a child to sexual situations and material is also considered sexual abuse. This form of abuse is unfortunately most often committed by someone close to the child, like a close relative and affects both girls and boys. Victims are often burdened with feelings of shame and guilt. Victims often have difficulty walking or sitting, are unwilling to change for gym class, may be withdrawn, have an unusually mature knowledge of sexual behavior, may have poor peer relationships and may run away.
All these forms of abuse can have devastating and long-lasting effects on victims. Maltreated children are at risk for developmental and cognitive delays, as well as emotional difficulties. They are also at higher risk for medical problems as the stress of the trauma negatively affects their nervous system and immune system development. They may also manifest symptoms of borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety and many other psychological disorders. As a way to cope, victims may also turn to drugs, alcohol and delinquent behavior.
It is our goal at Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey to stop abuse and neglect from ever happening to any of New Jersey’s children. Each child deserves a happy, healthy and safe childhood. Through our many programs, we work to educate parents on proper parenting techniques, including ways to prevent Shaken-Baby Syndrome, aid parents in overcoming stresses that may cause frustration and lead to abuse, prevent child sexual abuse by educating parents on how to identify sexual predators and making policy changes, and working with teen parents to ensure they graduate without a second pregnancy and with the necessary skills for raising their children. Our programs are empirically supported and are successful in supplying parents with the knowledge they need to raise healthy and safe children.
If you or anyone you know has reasonable cause to believe that a child is being abused, you are required by New Jersey law to make a report by calling 1-877-NJ-ABUSE (1-877-652-2873). All calls are anonymous. As soon as the report is made, an investigation on the alleged abuse and neglect will be conducted within the next 24 hours.
What is Child Abuse and Neglect? Recognizing Signs and Symptoms: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/whatiscan.pdf#page=1&view=Introduction
Long-Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/long_term_consequences.pdf#page=5&view=Behavioral%20Consequences
Child Abuse & Neglect: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/child_abuse_physical_emotional_sexual_neglect.htm
Nearly everyone recognizes the Super Bowl as one of the grandest of all sporting and TV events in the U.S. With the Super Bowl coming to the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey next February, the state’s tourist industry will receive a welcome boost in revenue from the sold-out stadium, parties, events and attending celebrities.
But what many people are shocked to learn, according to Attorneys General in states which have hosted the event, is that the Super Bowl is regarded as the largest “sex trafficking event” in the country each year. Sex trafficking is an illegal business operation where traffickers use fraud, coercion or threats of violence to force women, sometimes men, and – alarmingly — quite often children into prostitution. Research studies confirm that it causes devastating harm to victims, destroying lives and dramatically increasing the risk of mental health problems, drug abuse and suicide. A very high percentage of victims have suffered a previous incident of child sexual abuse, making them more vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers who prey on their unmet needs.
Many people think sex trafficking only happens in other countries – for example, in Thailand, which has become infamous for its ties to prostitution and trafficking. Or that sex trafficking may happen here in the U.S., but it only happens to foreign-born victims who are brought into the U.S.
The reality is that sex trafficking happens everywhere in the United States, including here in NJ, and that our citizens are at risk for being trafficked. The FBI and the NJ Attorney General have found cases in nearly every part of our state. Atlantic City, with the influx of tourists and money, has struggled with trafficking for years.
NJ also faces a special risk from sex trafficking due to its proximity to New York City. Many young women (and girls under age 18) move to NYC with the dreams of becoming a model or actress. Traffickers know how to take advantage, offering vulnerable women gifts, money, and false promises…that quickly turn into threats, entrapment and violence. Because New Jersey is a transit hub, complete with highways, ports, and an extensive public transportation system, people move relative easily and inconspicuously, across the state and across the state’s borders. And of course, New Jersey faces struggles with illegal drugs, gangs and other factors that make it easy for traffickers to conduct their business and not be caught.
Who’s at risk? Shockingly, the average age of a girl entering sex trafficking is 12-14. A girl who becomes alienated from her parents and runs away can easily be lured into trafficking by a trafficker posing as a boyfriend who offers help and a place to stay. Studies show that a runaway girl will be approached by someone in the trafficking industry within 48 hours of hitting the street. Youth who may be lesbian, gay, or transgender are especially vulnerable because they are often already treated as “outcasts” by their own family or community, and therefore can become a target for traffickers.
What can we do? Everyone can be more vigilant by knowing these facts. If you see a girl or boy you think could be caught up in trafficking, call the Polaris Project, a nationwide hotline that will help you decide what you saw and what to do. The number is 888 3737 888. There are many new efforts, led by our Department of Children and Families and the Attorney General, to educate people statewide about the warning signs and what you can do. Prevent Child Abuse NJ will be leading efforts to work with girls and boys who live in high-risk situations, such as runaway shelters, to prevent them from becoming involved in the commercial sex industry.
The Super Bowl will be an incredible happening for the state of New Jersey; with your help, we can also protect our children from being caught up in a human tragedy and horrific crime.
Preparing your home for a baby takes a lot of planning and a little creativity. When it comes to baby-proofing your home, you should never underestimate your baby’s number one talent: transforming everyday household items into safety hazards.
September is Baby Safety Awareness Month, which means that now is a great time to evaluate the security of your home. In the U.S., the leading cause of death among infants and toddlers is preventable household accidents.
Read through the following baby safety tips to make sure that your home is as secure as possible for your baby. You may even want to print these tips and keep them on your refrigerator. There’s a lot to remember when it comes to baby-proofing your home; it might help to read through these tips as a reminder every once in a while.
These are only some of the home safety tips you need to remember when it comes to keeping your baby safe. You may want to try getting down on your baby’s level to see if there are any safety hazards you are overlooking. If you crawl around your home, you may discover small items, such as coins, that could present choking hazards.
You should also remember that in order to keep your baby secure, you need to keep your home secure in general. Make sure you take appropriate fire prevention measures and install carbon monoxide detectors in your home to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Remember, your baby is relying on you to keep your house secure.
In NJ, a group of top experts in child welfare has come together to see what can be done to prevent child sexual abuse from ever happening to any child in our state. It includes doing a better job of educating parents about the true facts about child sexual abuse, so parents can be more vigilant in protecting their child from a potential perpetrator. And one of the most important facts is that the perpetrator is usually not a stranger; in about 90% of the cases, he/she is someone known and trusted by both the victim and the family. Consider how Jerry Sandusky built trust with his victims at Penn State, over time, incrementally, before a crime ever happened. That practice, known as “grooming”, has clear warning signs that parents need to recognize.
Over the weekend of August 10, we read the news of the heroic rescue of Hannah Anderson, the 16- year old girl who was with a close family friend, James DiMaggio, also known as “Uncle Jim”, after DiMaggio had burned down Hannah’s family home, killing both her mother and brother. He had escaped to an extremely remote backwoods area in Idaho, taking Hannah, and where he was eventually shot and killed by law enforcement officials. Hannah was safe.
And as of now, we don’t know all of the facts in this case. But as Hannah’s grandfather said after hearing of the rescue: “It was a complete shock….Let it serve as a warning, that’s all we can say”.
And yes, DiMaggio was known and trusted by Hannah’s parents, AND there were indeed warning signs. Sheriff’s officials have said DiMaggio had an “unusual infatuation” with 16-year old Hannah. They also characterized Hannah’s relationship with DiMaggio as being “close platonic”. A friend of Hannah’s, 15-year-old Marissa Chavez, told the Associated Press that she had witnessed DiMaggio tell Hannah he had a crush on her. He allegedly told the teen if they were the same age, he’d date her.
According to Hannah’s friend, Hannah was “creeped out” by the comments, but she didn’t tell her mom because she didn’t want to ruin the friendship her parents had with DiMaggio. But Hannah also didn’t want to be alone with DiMaggio after that, Chavez said.
Apparently, other news reports state that DiMaggio had also taken Hannah on a trip to Hollywood, which was supposed to be for one week, but Hannah told her friend they came back after two days because DiMaggio was upset that she wasn’t paying enough attention to him. That’s creepy too.
Again, not all the facts are known in this case yet; more is slowly becoming available. But for parents: it is important to recognize warning signs when an older adult is taking an unusual interest in your son or daughter and to pay attention. Talk to your child regularly, after events when they may be together, to check in on their mood, or ask about their time together. Drop in, unannounced, if possible, if they are spending time together in private. Ask questions about unusual gifts, or offers of transportation. Simply be vigilant when another adult spends one on one time with your son or daughter….not be become paranoid or distrusting….but to be mindful of the risks and vigilant in protecting your child from harm.
For more information and education about how to prevent child sexual abuse, go to www.preventchildabusenj; and click on the Enough Abuse Campaign in NJ. As Hannah’s uncle reminded us, “Let it serve as a warning, that’s all we can say”.
April is national “Child Abuse Prevention month”. Having children is certainly one of life’s greatest joys; but raising children can also be stressful, even for those with the best information and support. Sometimes, overwhelming stress and a lack of knowledge about child health and development can lead to child abuse and neglect, and it can happen in any community, anywhere. We all have a role to prevent child abuse from ever happening….but when we fail, our children, our communities and our country pay a steep price. Victims of child abuse have a greater chance of academic failure, substance abuse and mental health issues, chronic health conditions, juvenile delinquency and criminal behavior. In economic terms, child abuse costs American taxpayers more than $80 billion a year to fix something after the fact….that could have been prevented. The good news is we know how to prevent child abuse and we are making some progress…..but we can and need to do much better.
However, it’s challenging to build support for the cause of preventing child abuse and neglect. Some people shy away from the issue for various reasons, including discomfort with the tragedy of child abuse, blaming “bad parents” who would do such a thing, and that child abuse “doesn’t happen in my neighborhood”. I was meeting recently with a prominent political leader in our state and he noted that he also served on the Board of an organization involving “therapy dogs.” They had just received a donation of several million dollars from someone…who just loved dogs. We acknowledged that the cause of child abuse prevention was unlikely to see that level of support, for all of the reasons above. (And I love dogs too). But don’t our children deserve better….?
In speaking recently with the founder of a national philanthropy, which supports child abuse prevention as a primary goal, he noted that “there is really no direct constituency for the cause of child abuse prevention”, compared to that of other nonprofit causes, such as universities, hospitals, faith-based organizations, or specific health issues. So it makes it much harder to generate awareness and support for the issue ….and the opportunity to prevent abuse before it ever happens.
On April 2, Prevent Child Abuse America, with Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey as the spokesperson, was invited to ring the opening bell at the NASDAQ stock exchange to raise awareness about April as Child Abuse Prevention Month and about an event happening in Times Square on April 16. The invitation from NASDAQ, the second-largest stock exchange in the United States, highlights the understanding that investments in childhood health and development have been shown to be an effective tool for economic development, with proven returns to American taxpayers and economic productivity.
The event on April 16 will feature Miss America, Mallory Hagan, who is championing the cause of preventing child sexual abuse in our country. The event will create the largest “pinwheel garden” in the country, in Times Square, using the small toy of the pinwheel as a symbol of a happy and carefree childhood…and of child abuse prevention.
Hopefully, events like these during Child Abuse Prevention Month, to raise awareness about the cause of prevention, can help us understand that we all have a role play to prevent child abuse from ever happening to our children. How? By helping parents who are friends or family when they face the stress of parenting; By encouraging the values of healthy, respectful relationships and empathy for our children; By supporting our neighbors and faith communities to help families who may be struggling; And by telling our policymakers that it’s time to make child health and development a national priority, equal to others that make our country so great.
On the same day as the NASDAQ event, NJ newspapers reported the death of a 4-month old infant in NJ, who was shaken because he wouldn’t stop crying. The baby’s father was quoted as saying that the baby would still be alive if the parents had received “parenting lessons.” A number of hospitals across the state have recently begun an intensive program that provides a powerful reminder to new parents about the stress of a crying baby, and how parents can cope. It has been shown to be effective in dramatically reducing the incidence of shaken-baby syndrome in rigorous evaluations. However, so far, only a small group of hospitals have adopted it.
We know how to prevent abuse …but we can and need to do a better job. For more information on our work visit www.preventchildabusenj.org.
Recently, Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) released a report that finds that our youngest children –those younger than age 3 — were far more likely to die from child abuse and spend longer times in foster care than older children. The report is a valuable wake-up call that raises public awareness about the high levels of stress for parents with young children and a number of long-standing weaknesses in the foster care system. The report calls for better training of child welfare workers and special attention to the special issues of babies and toddlers.
Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey supports these excellent recommendations and while they may be necessary, they are not sufficient to fully address the challenge of child maltreatment that lies before us.
Child maltreatment – most notably physical abuse and neglect – happens to younger children in all settings for many of the same reasons it happens in the foster care system: younger children can present some of the most difficult challenges for parents because their communication skills are limited and their behavior can be trying even for the most stable and successful parents. And many parents lack sufficient knowledge about healthy child development to be a positive parent.
Federal statistics and NJ show that the highest rate of maltreatment happens to children under age 4 and the 80% of all fatalities from abuse occur to children younger than.
So certainly, ongoing reforms are needed in the foster care system to reduce the risk of child abuse for our youngest children.
But maybe more importantly, we have the opportunity to PREVENT these tragedies from occurring before a foster placement becomes necessary and before a child becomes a victim.
Improving the training of child welfare workers can be helpful, but strengthening proven prevention programs like home visitation would yield better results. Although home visitation programs have been expanded, we are only able to serve a small percentage of families in high-risk situations. We should also consider requiring foster parents to participate in home visitation programs to more closely monitor the stress level in this new temporary family setting, which would provide added education and support to prevent a tragedy.
The foster care system is a result of our most fundamental failure to prevent child abuse. Our first priority should be to strengthen our efforts to prevent child abuse from ever happening. Research about prevention programs shows they save lives, improve a child’s long-term health outcomes and success, and save taxpayers money by preventing the downstream costs of foster care, law enforcement, health care, treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues, incarceration and unemployment.
Anytime there is a case of child abuse, we need to back up from the crime and ask, “What could have been done to prevent this from ever happening?” In addition to helpful recommendation by ACNJ about reforms in the child welfare systems, there are many valuable opportunities to do better to prevent child abuse in NJ.
We recognize the extraordinary challenges and stresses facing parents in our State. The recent devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, followed by an early Nor’easter, caused millions of New Jersey residents to lose access to the basic necessities – food, shelter, clothing, water and electricity. These unprecedented events came on top of other forms of devastation related to the economic downturn that caused many to lose their homes, jobs, and security for their families.
With Jerry Sandusky’s sentencing now complete there will be a temptation for our country to close the book on this story and focus on other concerns that impact us, such as job creation, the economy, and ensuring our national security. But to do so would be to ignore another concern that impacts all of us: the on-going responsibility of adults to ensure that all children have the opportunity to lead healthy lives. To neglect this lesson is to dismiss the reality of the adverse consequences on our communities when a child is abused.
This sentence must not be the end of something; but the beginning of something new. As a nation, we can learn from this tragedy and make the individual and collective commitment that we will ensure the safety of children we think are in danger, we will support community organizations that work tirelessly to help families in need, and we will make the commitment of good stewardship to our children’s development.
As upsetting, and tragic, as this event has been, it has also increased awareness about how we can prevent sexual abuse by understanding the ways predators groom children; and how sexual abuse is less a tale of “stranger danger,” and more about the potential danger to children who are betrayed by a trusted adult or peer acquaintance.
Because of this event the norm of silence about child sexual abuse is beginning to become a more open and honest discussion about what it takes to ensure healthy child development. Institutions in communities across the nation are refining how they deal with situations like this and how they can prevent them from ever occurring again.
Given this, we challenge all adults to see today’s sentence as a call to action, and a moment where they can pledge to do what’s necessary to prevent child sexual abuse in their own communities by:
“From a tragedy such as this, hope can emerge, and the future health of not just our nation’s children and their families, but the nation itself can be addressed,” said James M. Hmurovich, President & CEO, Prevent Child Abuse America. “Today is a new day, and while we will not forget what brought us here, it can be the start of something healthy and positive. We hope you will join us, because what could be more important than the health and happiness of our children and their families…. Nothing I can think of.”
ABOUT PREVENT CHILD ABUSE NEW JERSEY
Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey, incorporated in 1979 as the state chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America, works in all twenty-one counties of the state to eliminate child abuse and neglect in all of its forms for all of New Jersey’s children. All of the organization’s work is research-based and built around nationally-recognized models. The nonprofit coordinates a full spectrum of family support programs including home visitation services, parent education groups, initiatives that promote parental involvement in a child’s education, and programs for highly vulnerable families.