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A new study out of U.C. Irvine by neurologist Dr. Tallie Z. Baram has found that caressing and other sensory input triggers activity in a baby’s developing brain that improves cognitive function and builds resilience to stress.

In a study published earlier this year in The Journal of Neuroscience, Baram and colleagues identified how sensory stimuli from maternal care can modify genes that control a key messenger of stress called corticotropin-releasing hormone.

Dr. Baram’s earlier work has shown that excessive amounts of CRH in the brain’s primary learning and memory center led to the disintegration of dendritic spines, branchlike structures on neurons. Dendritic spines facilitate the sending and receiving of messages among brain cells and the collection and storage of memories.

“Communication among brain cells is the foundation of cognitive processes such as learning and memory,” says Baram, the Danette Shepard Chair in Neurological Sciences. “In several brain disorders where learning and similar thought processes are abnormal, dendritic spines have been found to be reduced in density or poorly developed.

“Because an infant’s brain is still building connections in these communication zones, large blasts or long-term amounts of stress can permanently limit full development, increasing the risk of anxiety, depression and dementia later in life.”

Essentially, Dr. Baram and her colleagues’ work stands for the proposition that a human brain is fundamentally influenced by the environment early in life, especially by maternal care.

See story at Psychorg.com:

http://www.physorg.com/news192209628.html

I’ve just found out that the brilliant and amazing Alice Miller died on April 14, 2010 at the age of 87. She was a psychotherapist, a prolific writer, and a devoted champion of children’s rights, working throughout her life to spread awareness of the effects of child abuse.

Here is a video message she put out a few years back:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2hF2ujCeFw

and here is a link to her website:

http://www.alice-miller.com/index_en.php

A number of us have heard recently about the mounting sexual abuse claims against the Catholic Church. Well, children have been used as sexual objects by adults since ancient history.

The latest news:  In a trial in Oregon, a former Boy Scout is suing the Boy Scout organization for damages arising out of the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a Boy Scout leader. The victim in this trial has obtained access to “the perversion files” – files detailing incidents of sexual abuse of boys by Scout leaders within the Boy Scout organization over the years, which the Boy Scouts have deemed private and confidential. Details contained in the files are expected to be released to the public during the trial.

More detail in this article:

http://rawstory.com/2010/03/report-boy-scouts-covered-sex-abuse-decades/

Researchers at the School of Medicine and the Trinity Institute for Neuroscience at the Trinity College Dublin have shown that child abuse leads to negative structural brain changes including an increased susceptibility to depression:

http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2010/02/26/Child-abuse-can-cause-brain-changes/UPI-24541267212440/

Many people believe that if a child is too young to remember wrongs done to the child, that it doesn’t matter. A number of them harm innocent children and babies in misguided attempts to relieve their own pain.

However, many recent studies have led to significant new evidence showing that a child’s brain and body are damaged for life when that child is mistreated, even where the mistreatment happened when the child was too young to remember it.

Here is a brief article about a recent study showing that childhood abuse damages the DNA of the victim and leads to difficulties in stress regulation due to actual physiological damage in the body.

http://discovermagazine.com/2010/jan-feb/061

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

Here is a story of child abuse out of Salem, Oregon.

Two parents have been arrested and accused of multiple counts of child abuse against their children, ages 15, 14, 13, 11, 10, and 9, including 6 counts of second-degree Assault, 6 counts of first-degree Criminal Mistreatment, 6 counts of Unlawful use of a Weapon and 6 counts of Coercion.

The children were taken into protective custody, as was the parents’ six-day-old infant, after the three older children called 911 to report abuse.  Sheriff’s deputies found significant evidence of abuse on the children.

Salem, Oregon, Parents Accused of Child Abuse, 7-22-09

What is most striking to me about this online newpaper article are the comments posted by readers of the article. Read them at this link: Two Adults Arrested in Salem on Multiple Counts of Child Abuse, Salem-News.com, July 22, 2009.

Apparently, nearly everyone who read the story was certain that the children were lying, that they were evil, and that they cruelly reported their parents just to avoid the spankings they deserve. Instead of sympathizing with the children or even hoping the parents could get some proper counseling, these multiple readers sympathized with the parents. Many of them cited bible verses indicating that children need to be disciplined with violence.

This is a very common classic method of childrearing. Children are to blame, children are to be hurt because they are to blame, and children need to keep quiet about it to protect the parents’ reputation.

Here are bible verses quoted by a reader commenting on an article on this situation in another online paper (Salem Parents are Accused of Child Abuse, OregonLive.com, July 22, 2009):

Proverbs 13:24 He who spares his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.

Proverbs 19:18 Chasten your son while there is hope,
And do not set your heart on his destruction.

Proverbs 22:15 Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child;
The rod of correction will drive it far from him.

Proverbs 23:13 Do not withhold correction from a child,
For if you beat him with a rod, he will not die.

Proverbs 23:14 You shall beat him with a rod,
And deliver his soul from hell.

Proverbs 29:15 The rod and rebuke give wisdom,
But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother

Despite all this, I am not singling out Christianity as the only religion that traditionally supports child abuse or mistreatment. In fact, I don’t know of a single culture that has been immune from child mistreatment through history.

As you may remember from the prior post, in 1979, Sweden became the first country to ban all corporal punishment of children including in the home.

In an elucidating article, Adrienne Ahlgren Haeuser, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, has described the impact of the Swedish law a decade after its passage.

Professor Haeuser visited Sweden in 1981 and 1988, conducting extensive interviews with multiple government authorities, human services professionals, teachers and daycare personnel, child welfare organization leaders, parents, and some children.

The facts she discovered are amazing and surprising – the law has actually changed parenting practices and improved life in Sweden. Read the article at this link:  Swedish Parents Don’t Spank, By Adrienne A. Haeuser.

Here are some of her observations (made as of a decade after the law’s passage):

1. Before World War 2, Sweden was a society influenced by German authoritarianism and Lutheran dogma, under which childrearing included regular harsh beatings to “drive out the devil and make room for God’s Will.”

2. Sweden moved into the 1970’s with widespread child abuse.

3. The law was implemented in these ways: (a) every family received a mailing explaining the physical and psychological harm that can be caused by hitting children; (b) it was implemented through public health facilities, including close case work by nurses at the facilities; and (c) the law was given wide coverage in the media.

4.” The school system, in response to passage of the law, intensified the curriculum in child development and parenting. . . , and parents did not object to having their children learn about the law in school. As one parent said, ‘This teaches children not to be violent.'”

5. Since passage of the law, “few minor infractions have been reported by spiteful neighbors or children, putting to rest the speculation that such a law would create chaos by turning minor parental infractions into government cases.”

6. There have been many more reports of substantiated cases of child abuse.

7. In 1988, “[B]oth parents and professionals agreed that Swedish parents, aside from those with very serious psychological or social problems, were not using physical punishment of any sort, even in the privacy of their homes.”

8. “Swedish parents now discipline their children; and in doing so, they rely on a variety of alternatives to physical punishment. The method most commonly used is verbal conflict resolution. . . .”

9. ” To socialize preverbal infants and toddlers, Swedish parents make every effort to avoid conflict. They thoroughly childproof their homes and give their children a great deal of attention. Society supports include paid parental leave, which permits one parent to remain at home throughout a baby’s first 15 months of life.”

10. Violent crimes against people in Sweden decreased.