If it is true that the future of America is its youth, then there is great need to worry. Child abuse might be an uncomfortable and depressing topic of discussion, but it also is one of the most important ones of the 21st century. To bring a little perspective to it, here are some interesting and simultaneously appalling statistics and facts to consider.
Americans tend to think child abuse only occurs in a minority of homes – domestic violence is a symptom of the most dysfunctional families and is hardly a real problem in today’s society. But once one confronts the facts, this assumption is completely obliterated. For example, did you know that three children die from child abuse every single day? That’s 1,092 children a year; most of these children die before they reach their fifth birthday. In fact, of all the causes of death in infants and toddlers, child abuse is the most common.
But the effects of child abuse can’t just be illustrated with rates of mortality. After all, a child is abused every 10 seconds, and almost three million cases of child neglect and abuse are reported every year – so if you take into account that abuse has not only dangerous, sometimes deadly, physical consequences, but lifelong emotional consequences, this surprisingly widespread damage to America’s youth can be overwhelming.
But in order to really understand the problem, a clear definition of child abuse must be grasped. What is child abuse? There are four basic types of child abuse. They are: physical and sexual abuse, the most easily understood of the four; physical neglect, which entails depriving food, shelter, and other necessities from a child; emotional neglect, or depriving a child of attention and/or love; and finally, medical neglect, which is similar to physical neglect, in that the child does not receive proper medical care (if any at all). But not all child abuse occurs inside the home; a stranger, relative, or family friend can be the culprit.
So how can you determine if a child has been maltreated? Maybe you are a concerned parent or teacher. Whatever the case, it’s important to be alert to the signs of child abuse. Most children are not going to confess to their abuse, so you must rely on your own judgment in order to determine if a child has been victimized.
The obvious indicator that a child has been abused is evidence of physical injury. But children are playful and clumsy! A healthy, active child is likely one with a few cuts and bruises. However, if the injuries can’t be explained or are recurring, you have reason to be suspicious. Moreover, there are signs of sexual abuse, specifically, that you can look out for. Ask yourself: does the child experience nightmares and suffer from depression? What about pain in the abdominal area? As well, a sexually abused child may wet his or her bed, have a urinary tract infection, and/or experience genital bleeding. His or her behavior might be strange, too, especially regarding sex. Some of these signs of sexual abuse are the same for emotional abuse, including low self-esteem, nightmares, and depression. Additionally, an emotionally abused child may suffer from mysterious headaches and stomach pains that seem to come out of nowhere. What about emotionally neglected children? A child who is emotionally neglected may not gain weight at a normal rate, boast an insatiable appetite, and/or reach out for affection from other adults and children. One overriding sign of abuse, in general, is if the child tries to run away. Many functional, happy children toy with the idea of running away and camp out in their backyard, but if a child seems to genuinely desire to escape his or her environment, it should be seriously noted. It’s probable that an abused child suffers from more than just one type of abuse.
Unfortunately, these short-term effects of child abuse are not the most frightening. After all, most abused children do not have enduring physical effects. The disturbing part is that they will most likely grow up to be troubled adolescents and adults who may even abuse their own children. Severe depression and anxiety, suicidal attempts, alcohol and drug addiction, and even criminal behavior often plague teenagers and young adults who suffered, or may still suffer, from abuse. And adults with a history of abuse face a whole new world of problems, including depression and dysfunction in their sex and marital lives.
The consequences of child abuse vary with every case – the age of the abused child and the extent of the abuse are all major factors here, but whether the effects are mild or severe, it’s clear that child abuse is a real tragedy and a real problem in America.
So what can you do to help prevent child abuse? By reading this article, you’ve already made a step in the right direction. You are armed with useful information that can help you recognize abuse so that you can take action and report it. However, there may be more you can do. If you are a new parent, there are support programs and educational opportunities you can benefit from that will prepare you for parenthood. Especially if you have a history of violence in your family, it’s recommendable that you confront the issue head on via one-on-one therapy or group therapy or all of the above! Also, if you are an overwhelmed mother or father, consider using child care programs to alleviate the stress. (Even if you are not a full-time worker, it may be a good idea to get outside help.) The sooner Americans acknowledge the problem, the sooner they can band together to solve it. For now, however, the best you can do as an individual is to stay on your toes (especially if you are a caregiver or parent).