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The Cycle of Child Abuse

By josie13 Mar 22, 2007 1464 Words
Children depend on parents and caregivers to look after them through childhood. Being protective is considered natural and instinctive and most children are well cared for by their parents. However, there are some children for whom a parents instinctive desire to protect is unrealized and children are thereby exposed to the risk of child abuse. Thus begins the cycle of abuse, which, once started, cannot be stopped. Determining and moderating the causes of child abuse have been central objectives in all research, theory and methods of intervention in this complex area (Gelles and Loseke 1993). A recurrent theme in the child abuse literature for some time has been the notion that it is maltreated children who become abusive parents. It is hypothesized that children may learn to be abusive from parents who model abusive behavior. Alternative explanations have been that some children may have a genetic predisposition for aggressive behavior which is transformed into child abuse when the child becomes an adult. It may also be that intergenerational transmission is caused by a combination of genetic and social influences. Domestic violence affects every member of the family, including children. It creates a home environment where children live in constant fear. Children who witness domestic violence are affected in ways similar to children who are physically abused. They are often unable to establish nurturing bonds with either parent. Children who witness abuse are 50 times more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, and six times more likely to commit suicide than children in the general population. My analysis indicates that a child facing a domestically hostile environment develops fear, instability, and confusion. These become the key replacements of love, comfort, and nurturing that children need. These children live in constant fear of physical harm from the person who is supposed to care for and protect them. They may feel guilt at loving the abuser or blame themselves for causing the violence. The majority of them often start to do badly at school. At times, they get symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder – that is, have nightmares and flashbacks and be easily startled. Every child will be affected differently, based on the following factors: Their interpretation of the experience (age influenced) How they have learned to survive and cope with stress

The availability of supports (friends, relatives, and other adults) Their ability to accept support and assistance from adults This belief that child abuse can be transmitted across generations, or that a cycle of child abuse could be set up across generations was one of the earliest and most widely accepted theories of the causation of child abuse. Widom (1989) reported intergenerational transmission to be the premier hypothesis in the child abuse field. There are three main theories proposed to account for the intergenerational transmission child abuse. First, under the principles of social learning theory, it is assumed that if a physically punitive parent ends up with an aggressive child, it is because the child has learned that pattern of response (Muller, Hunter and Stollak 1995). That is, aggressive or violent actions are learned via patterns of positive reinforcement and punishment which shape behavior, and/or from the observation and imitation of significant others who model aggressive behavior. The parent role is one of the most nurturing, meaningful and powerful positions in a child's life, and each of these qualities have been shown to enhance the potential for the imitation of a model. It is therefore not surprising that under social learning theory, parents are perceived to be extremely powerful models for children. Second, it is argued that there is a biological or genetic component to aggressive behavior, where aggressiveness is assumed to be an individual characteristic based in temperament. Under this theory a parent's predisposition for aggression or violence is thought to be inherited by a child. The punitive response of a parent is then assumed to be a response to the child's inherent character, rather than the aggressive behaviors the child has learned. The child's inherited predisposition also acts as the factor in the perpetuation of the cycle of child abuse, producing an increased probability of the child subsequently using corporal punishment or maltreating his/her own child. Kaufman and Zigler (1993) contended that most studies of family violence have failed to consider the biological or genetic component to aggressive behavior. Many investigations of intergenerational transmission, particularly studies of corporal punishment and physical abuse, have assumed the underlying operation of social learning principles without directly testing the assumptions against alternative perspectives. A third explanation put forward to explain the intergenerational transmission of violence is the interaction of environmental (social learning) and genetic factors. There does appear to be some evidence suggesting a genetic component to the expression of antisocial behavior (Kaufman and Zigler 1993), but that component alone, does not appear able to adequately explain the process by which corporal punishment is transmitted inter-generationally (Muller, Hunter and Stollak 1995). Kaufman and Zigler (1993) contended that a genetic predisposition merely puts an individual at risk for the expression of violent behavior, and that it is the interaction of genetic and environmental factors which produce the greatest risk of acting violently. Although many parents believe that they can hide domestic violence from their children, children living in these homes report differently. Research suggests that between 80 and 90 percent of these children are aware of the violence. Even if they do not see a beating, they hear the screams and see the bruises, broken bones, and abrasions sustained by their mothers. I believe that children who witness violence show more anxiety, aggression, depression and temperamental problems, less empathy and self-esteem, and lower verbal, and motor abilities than children who did not witness violence at home. This leads me to classify the effects on a child as emotional/behavioral or physical. Emotionally weak children develop anxiety. They are in constant alert on when the next outbreak of violence will occur. I recently asked a friend what was the only thing he feared most and his answer was the fear of losing a loved one. This fear usually automatically develops in children who are afraid that one parent will die or be seriously injured. At times, they feel guilty for the hostile environment they end up in. They may think that the abuse is their fault. Teens in shelters often face the problem of having to move and begin school in a new place, having to make new friends while feeling the shame of living in a shelter. Needless to say, their family relationships can be strained to the breaking point. On the other hand, I have even seen children ending up in physical disorders. Developmental delays start occurring in a child's body. In babies, this takes the form of failure to thrive. Children may also develop speech disorders as a result of stress. It is all because of these reasons that a child starts witnessing stress-related ailments within him. They often complain about headaches, stomachaches, and feeling bad. Mental instability leads to children becoming accident-prone. Often teenagers from violent homes turn to drugs and alcohol. Many escape into early marriages and/or pregnancies. Violence is a learned behavior. Many children who witness abuse grow up to repeat the behavior as spouses and as parents. Children in homes where domestic violence occurs are physically abused or seriously neglected at a rate 1500% higher than the national average in the general population. To conclude, effects of violence on children are so harmful that they should be one way or another, sheltered from witnessing violence so that in the future they may appear as most useful citizens of the society. Rather than spend another decade debating the proportion of parents with a childhood history of maltreatment who will become abusive, it would be more positive to focus on the factors, conditions and interventions which can prevent the cycle of violence from continuing through another generation (Hunter, Kilstrom, 1979). The cycle of child abuse cannot be broken, only prevented.

Works Cited

Gelles, R.J. and Loseke, D.R., "Characteristics of Fathers in Incest Families." Journal of Interpersonal Violence 9.2 (1993): p.155-169 Hunter, R.S. and Kilstrom, N. "Breaking the Cycle in Abusive Families." American Journal of Psychiatry 36:October (1979): p.1320-1322. Kaufman, J. and Zigler, E. The Intergenerational Transmission of Abuse is Overstated, in R.J. Gelles and D.R. Loseke (eds) Current Controversies on Family Violence. Newbury Park, California: Sage Publications, 1993 Muller, R.T., Hunter, J.E. and Stollak, G. (1995), The Intergenerational Transmission of Corporal Punishment: A Comparison of Social Learning and Temperament models, Child Abuse and Neglect, vol.19, no.11, pp.1323-1335. Widom, C.S. (1989), Does Violence Beget violence? A Critical Examination of the Literature, Psychological Bulletin, vol.106, no.1, pp.3-28.

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