Child Abuse—Things You Can Do About It
THE “epidemic” of child abuse has now reached alarming proportions. As noted in the preceding article, a variety of circumstances and attitudes affecting parents lead to mistreatment of little ones.
How can parents and other adults cope with the tendency to abuse children? One thing is to realize the harmful results of child abuse. Have you thought seriously about this?
A Pittsburgh research team carried on a study of twenty abused youngsters. A report of this study explains:
“Most of them appeared to be permanently damaged mentally, physically, and emotionally. Only two out of the twenty could be described as completely normal. More than half were underweight, some were extremely malnourished, six also showed signs of central nervous system damage. In two cases this was clearly the result of blows received on the head. Three of the group had marked physical defects: one had a skull deformity, another paralysis of the lower extremities, and a third had permanent eye damage. Two others were under-sized and underweight, four scored below 80 on I.Q. tests, four were emotionally disturbed; about half of the group had speech problems.”
Did you know that similar ill effects can result from shaking a small child? This too can lead to permanent brain damage. Constant screaming and otherwise vocally assaulting youngsters are other things that lastingly harm children.
The Scriptures admonish everyone desiring to meet God’s approval: “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all badness.” (Eph. 4:31) That strikes at the root of nearly every case of child abuse, namely, uncontrolled anger.
“But I Have a Vicious Temper”
Is that your problem? What can you do to avoid angry outbursts?
Getting a correct viewpoint of anger is important. Doubtless your own experience has taught you that today’s world views anger and violence as an acceptable way of coping with problems and pressures. But have the two world wars and numerous other conflicts that have resulted from that attitude shown it to be beneficial?
According to the Scriptures, anger and violence are an indication, not of strength, but of weakness. We read: “A stupid man gives free rein to his anger; a wise man waits and lets it grow cool.” (Prov. 29:11, New English Bible) Illustrating the weakened condition of an enraged person, the Bible further states: “Like a city that is breached and left unwalled is a man who cannot control his temper.”—Prov. 25:28, NE, margin.
How can you better control your temper? A basic step is to heed the further Scriptural advice: “Do not have companionship with anyone given to anger; and with a man having fits of rage you must not enter in, that you may not get familiar with his paths and certainly take a snare for your soul.” (Prov. 22:24, 25) That should be easy for you to obey, for likely it is within your power to choose the persons with whom you regularly associate. Seeking companionship with mild-tempered individuals will aid you in maintaining self-control.
Can you avoid situations in which your child is likely to provoke anger? What about engaging a baby-sitter while you do your shopping, or shopping at a time when other family members can care for the children? When children become cranky because of being overtired, many discerning parents stop whatever they are doing and sit down with them on a bench or any nearby facility that will serve the purpose. A few words of comfort, rather than a rebuke, and the little ones usually calm down.
Some may view this as overly doting upon youngsters who ought to “know better” than to cause such a fuss. But often the children are simply worn out from several hours on their feet or otherwise expending their energy. In connection with such cases the Bible urges paying attention to complaints, saying: “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the helpless, he will cry for help himself and not be heard.”—Prov. 21:13, NE.
Do You Recall When You Were Little?
An important way to avoid getting exasperated at children is to remember what it was like when you were little. Instructive is the following experience related by a journalist and mother:
“One day a young man got on a bus with a child who was screaming and writhing in his arms. It was all he could do to hold on to her. As she wailed at the top of her lungs, he was well aware of the looks of annoyance on the faces of people on the bus. When he finally got seated, the young father kept a firm grip on the screaming mass of humanity in his arms and spoke to her in a low, steady voice. ‘Jenny, darling,’ he said, ‘I know just how you feel. You are so hungry and tired. It’s a scary feeling. You’re all mixed up about everything. You just can’t stop crying. I know you can’t help it. Let me rock you. I promise we’ll be home soon, and you can get into your bed and I’ll sing you to sleep. Yes, poor baby, I know you can’t stop crying.’”
What was the result of this father’s tender fellow feeling for his child? “After a few minutes, as the message of understanding seeped through the exhaustion, Jenny quieted down, sucked her thumb and fell asleep.” The observer concluded from this experience:
“If a parent tries to empathize with what the child is experiencing—and acknowledges feeling the same way long ago—it changes the whole situation. If you think your child is a spoiled brat who is trying to drive you out of your mind, then the wish to strike back becomes overwhelming. If, on the other hand, you think to yourself, ‘When a little kid gets tired the whole world falls apart—and it must have been that way for me once, too,’ then nurturing beneficial to both parent and child can take place.”
Discipline Without ‘Irritation’
Does this suggest that physical punishment, such as spanking, is entirely out of place? Not at all. There are many occasions when that type of punishment is necessary. The Bible declares: “Do not hold back discipline from the mere boy. In case you beat him with the rod, he will not die. With the rod you yourself should beat him, that you may deliver his very soul from Sheol [the grave] itself.”—Prov. 23:13, 14.
But physical punishment is not always necessary; nor is it effective with every child. And have you noticed that many parents carry physical punishment to extremes? They lose their temper and inflict hurt far beyond what is required for correction. Studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of child abusers are parents who overdiscipline.
The Scriptures warn against this. While encouraging parents to bring up their children “in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah,” the apostle Paul warns: “Do not be irritating your children.” (Eph. 6:4) In another place Paul counseled: “You fathers, do not be exasperating your children.” (Col. 3:21) This would rule out brutal beatings or other physical torture, as well as badgering youngsters by continually screaming at them, belittling them or subjecting them to other psychological indignities. As a pattern of conduct pleasing to God the Bible points to the parent who “cherishes” and is “gentle” with the little ones.—1 Thess. 2:7.
Help for Abusing Parents
Basic to overcoming child abuse is helping the parent. In an article entitled “It’s the Parent Who Needs Help,” Edward Edelson points out:
“In almost every case, the cure for child abuse is to give parents enough self-respect and dignity to achieve the deep friendships they lack. Most of these parents have lived in unspeakable loneliness, because they are afraid of being rejected by acquaintances in the same way they were rejected by their parents. Only this sort of friendship can make the parent see the child in the proper light—not as a living toy designed to satisfy the parents’ needs, but as another human being with a life and demands of its own.”
To achieve vital personal relationships with other adults, some abusing parents have grouped together into organizations such as “Parents Anonymous” and “Mothers Anonymous.” They meet regularly to help to improve relationships between the parents and their children. In some areas there are emergency day-care centers where parents can drop off their children when matters become stressful. Is there a facility of that type in your area? A call to your family physician or local hospital or your consulting the telephone directory may put you in touch with persons who can help with the problem of child abuse.
But there is something even more effective than these secular services when it comes to developing meaningful human relations. What is that?
Guidance That Really Works
With regard to the written Word of God, the apostle Paul wrote: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial . . . for setting things straight,” including injured relationships between parents and children. (2 Tim. 3:16) Let us consider some basic principles that produce such improved relations.
Persons who study child abuse say that abusing parents expect far more from their children than they can reasonably give. The Bible works for correcting such a selfish attitude, saying: “I tell everyone there among you not to think more of himself than it is necessary to think.” (Rom. 12:3) Adults will be inclined to heed that advice when they recognize the further Scriptural truth: “There is no man righteous in the earth that keeps doing good and does not sin.” (Eccl. 7:20) All have faults, adults as well as children; and when you think of it, are not the foibles of infants and toddlers less blameworthy than the unkind deeds (sometimes premeditated) of grown-ups?
True, there are times when children deliberately act ‘bratty’ and parents become justifiably annoyed. As noted above, discipline with the literal “rod” may become necessary. But never should parents lose self-control when administering discipline. They must keep in mind the Scriptural advice: “Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely,” and this even when someone justly “has a cause for complaint against another.”—Col. 3:13.
The Bible’s lofty standards for sexual morality constitute a further deterrent to child abuse. Children whose parents heed the Scriptural command, “Flee from fornication,” need not fear cruel treatment by visiting “boy friends” or “girl friends” of the parent with whom they live.—1 Cor. 6:18.
The Joy of Interest in Others
The Word of God especially excels when it comes to the need for child-abusing parents to develop fruitful relationships with other adults. A principle that is sure to succeed is found at Philippians 2:3, 4: “[Do] nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you, keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.”
But does that make sense? Is it practical to treat others as “superior” to yourself in today’s hostile world? Jesus Christ assured that, not only does it make sense, but it will cause persons to act toward you in the same unselfish way. “Practice giving, and people will give to you,” said Jesus. “For with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you in return.” (Luke 6:38) Why not try it and prove to yourself that the Son of God knew what he was talking about.
The Bible principles set out above really work when applied. Would you like to make them succeed for you? That will require regular association with others who are putting forth effort to improve relations with their fellowman, including their families. Where can you find such people?
Jehovah’s Witnesses gather at their Kingdom Halls for five weekly meetings. Frequently discussions at these meetings center around Bible principles for happy family life and how parents and children can truly enjoy being together. You are cordially invited to attend at the Kingdom Hall nearest to you. No collections of money are ever taken. Besides that, Jehovah’s Witnesses will be happy to conduct a free Bible study with you and your family, either in your home or at another convenient place. If you would enjoy that, simply contact the Witnesses at your local Kingdom Hall or write to the publishers of this magazine.