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Parents find all kinds of ways to hurt their children and call it discipline:

Parents are accused of starving girl for years, Seattle PI local, October 14, 2008.

Long and Pomeroy's House

The following is from an article by Mary Katherine Armstrong, “Child Abuse, Shame, Rage and Violence”, (Journal of Psychohistory, Summer 2003):

Dr. Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber was a prominent German doctor who set himself up as an authority on child psychology. In 1858 his books on child rearing were so popular with German parents, that some of them went through forty printings. Of course, the parents who bought the books did not even remotely suspect that they were purchasing manuals on how to expose their children to a systematic form of torture with long term effects.

Dr. Shreber’s psychology started with the newborn baby who should be drilled from the very first day to obey and refrain from crying. Master the crying baby through frightening it, and “you will be master of the child forever. From then on, a glance, a word, a single threatening gesture will be sufficient to control the child” (Miller, 1990, p.10). As a result of admonitions to avoid physical demonstrations such as stroking, cuddling and kissing, all these German infants suffered from the absence of direct, loving contact with their parents. Today’s extensive research into attachment theory makes clear the damage done by such unattuned parenting.

Germany was the only nation which gave precise details on how to discipline babies through frightening them. German children were reared according to detailed rules, designed to produce children who were cut off from their own ability to think things through and come to satisfactory personal decisions. Humiliation, these child rearing experts pronounced, is the key to producing adults who will always obey authority figures and never act in accordance with their own will. Alice Miller tell us that dependence on authority, plus intense shaming of children, produced the generation of Germans who obediently followed Hitler into the Second World War and found their emotional release in carrying out atrocities. She says:

Of course children in other countries have been and still are mistreated in the name of upbringing and care-giving, but hardly already as babies and hardly with the systematic thoroughness characteristic of the Prussian pedagogy. In the two generations before Hitler’s rise to power, the implementation of this method was brought to a high degree of perfection in Germany (1998, p.574).

Sadly, these things happen every day and have throughout human history: 

The Emma Case, More than 80 Bruises on Girl, Houston Chronicle, Aug. 11, 2009.

Protective Services. The Houston Chronicle, Aug. 15, 2009.

Emma

While physical violence and sexual cruelty against children are to many of us clearly identifiable as abuse, emotional abuse can be harder to recognize. Certainly, most of us would not defend the parent who regularly hurls the label “stupid” at his child, but there are many forms of emotional abuse that are much more subtle.

Consider this relatively thorough overview of several studied forms of emotional abuse: Types of Emotional Abuse, Child Abuse Effects, Darlene Barriere.  With examples of each, Ms. Barriere lists six types of emotional abuse: rejecting, isolatingignoringcorruptingexploiting, and terrorizing.

Parents may hurt a child by leaving him or her alone for long periods of time – isolating/ignoring/rejecting. Several studies have shown that children in orphanages who are left in cribs for long periods of time, while having their basic needs provided for and not subjected to violence, nonetheless end up with mental and physical disorders and stunted development, in contrast with babies and children who are loved and provided with attention and affection. (Example MacArthur Foundation-financed study described in Boston Globe Article, Study on orphans sees benefit in family care, Nov. 11, 2006, The Boston Globe, showing lowered IQ in babies raised in orphanages). Ignoring one’s responsibility to show affection and positive attention to a child entrusted by nature to one’s care does have consequences.

Consider this study published by the Americal Psychological Association:  Social Exclusion Impairs Self-Regulation, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2005, Vol. 88, No. 4, 589–604, finding that being excluded or rejected caused decrements in self-regulation.

Available studies lead to the conclusion that when parent causes a child feelings of isolation (through means such as leaving the child alone for lengthy periods of time, keeping the child from social activities, and/or treating the child differently than other children to create circumstances of exclusion), this creates negative consequences in the child’s brain functioning. 

Out of Australia – last week, a mother strapped her 14 year old daughter to a lie detector test on a radio show to interrogate the girl about her disclosure of a rape that happened to her when she was 12, which the radio DJs and the mother apparently found entertaining. Not only did the mother accuse the girl of lying in her first disclosure to her that she was raped, but the girl was subsequently victimized on public radio.

Maybe one logical question is – why the pain and suffering of children a source of entertainment or pleasure for some? Another point this incident reveals is that child victims of abuse or mistreatment are frequently silenced and kept quiet under threat of further victimization. If children reveal what has happened to them, their revelations are denied, they are put down as liars, while their parents work at protecting their own image from potential accusations of wrongful behavior.

Consider this intelligent analysis of the situation by Professor S. Caroline Taylor, Foundation chair in social justice, Edith Cowan University, WA: Abuse of trust breeds culture of silence, theage.com.au, August 1, 2009.