The Bottom Line – Child Abuse
"30-40% of parents who suffered abuse or neglect as children go on to abuse or neglect their own children." How can this be?
Most people associate the term 'child abuse' with a physical or sexual act of violence, or neglect. We also think of the term in a wider context -- which includes domination, control, shaming, repression and bullying, both in the home and in school.
The history of parenting reveals an horrific level of abuse against children, born mainly out of fear and ignorance. Child abuse is one of the last taboos - one that sufferers find incredibly difficult to talk about, and the rest of us shy away from confronting. This helps perpetuate cycles of abuse, and frighteningly often an abuser has been abused themselves. This is so deeply embedded in the human psyche that to this day many of us accept as normal what should be consigned to history and refuse to accept that certain bahaviours we think of as normal can be labelled abusive.
Beyond the horrific cases of abuse that get reported are many thousands of people living in silent terror. And abuse isn't black and white. It is not just horrific or OK. It is not just aimed at people. Abuse happens throughout society and manifests itself in many ways: in the way we treat the planet, the way we pursue wealth, in classrooms under the guise of discipline, and even in some styles of parenting.
We recognise that most of us become parents without any knowledge of how to be a parent - or doubting in our own abilities to be a parent and raise happy, well-balanced children. Or worst, so stressed we cannot find the capacity to care. Many children are growing up, not abused in the accepted sense of the word, but lacking in the emotional health that comes from empathic parents, carers and teachers. These are the children who are likely to under achieve in school, live with high levels of stress and increasing anger and face all sorts of difficulties from a lifetime of emotional exclusion because of their behaviour. These are the ones more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol for solace, or whose peers become gang members, or binge drink or have eating disorders. It is now well documented that children facing difficulties in their early years are far more likely to under achieve in education, have difficulty in forming and sustaining relationships, and be more susceptible to drug abuse and crime. Without support, this can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. In the UK, child care has never been taught at school and parenting is still not part of the National Curriculum. The long-term psychological damage any 'abuse' has on a developing child has implications for all of us, right across the socio-economic spectrum and we see this in the media on an almost daily basis.
Becoming a parent with this sort of background and no other positive experiences to draw upon, offers a grim prognosis for a child. Too often the cycle continues and the abused becomes the abuser, in all its manifestations. But not in all cases. Some survivors do become successful parents and reject the violence and that so scarred their childhood, and though the scars will never completely heal, the good news is that everyone is 'repairable'. But the later the help, the deeper rooted, more complex and difficult it becomes to help the individual. So why not try to prevent the damage in the first place? Which is what we aim to do.