NEW YORK (CBS NEWS) – Research shows that the adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” just is not true, especially when it comes to the lives of young children.
A clinical report from child abuse experts, published on July 30 in Pediatrics, says that psychological abuse can be as damaging to a young child’s physical, mental and emotional health as some forms of physical abuse. What’s more, such abuse is often under-reported and hard to detect since there are no visible abrasions or bruises, the researchers said, making it potentially the most prevalent form of child abuse and neglect.
While psychological abuse was recognized over 25 years ago, the researchers said that few studies have looked at the rates of psychological abuse. Previous studies suggest about 8 to 9 percent of women and 4 percent of men in the U.S. and Britain said they suffered from severe psychological abuse in childhood.
According to the report’s authors, psychological abuse may include acts like belittling, denigrating, terrorizing, exploiting, being emotionally unresponsive or corrupting a child to the point his or her well-being is at risk. It can also include withholding love, having unrealistic expectations or forcing the child to participate in dangerous situations. Examples may include a mother leaving her infant alone in a crib all day or a father involving his teenager in his drug habit. While a parent raising their voice for the eighth time to get a child to put on their shoes wouldn’t be abuse, yelling at the child and telling them that they are a terrible person daily would be.
“We are talking about extremes and the likelihood of harm, or risk of harm, resulting from the kinds of behavior that make a child feel worthless, unloved or unwanted,” report author Dr. Harriet MacMillan, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, said in the press release.
Psychological abuse has been linked with development problems, such as attachment disorders, socialization problems, disruptive behavior and emotional problems.
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