Each year, April is designated as child-abuse prevention month by public officials all over the United States, serving as a reminder of the need for all of us to focus on healthy child development. Happy, healthy children grow into happy, healthy, and productive adults and strengthen the economic and social fabric of our community.
April is also designated an Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and of course, the two issues intersect in several important ways.
One of the most obvious points of intersection is that abusers share a lack of regard for the impact their behavior has on the victim.
This month, former vice president Joe Biden was in the news for expressing a brand of affection that fits within his values of warm, hands-on contact with the public. But some people experience his touching as uncomfortable at best, and intrusive at worse.
On the more serious end of the spectrum are the type of sex offenders who develop relationships with victims and can convince themselves that the victim was a willing participant. Leaving Neverland, the HBO documentary describing singer Michael Jackson’s long-term, “loving” relationships with boys is an example.
Radio personality Robin Quivers offers another clear example of this type of ignorance. At age 12, she gathered the courage to confront her sexually abusive father, who apparently was so disconnected from his victim that he believed that she had been enjoying the sex; he never touched Robin again, once he knew her truth.
Here are two much more commonly practiced behaviors which science has shown unequivocally hurt children:
- Hitting: The data is in and respected organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association now warn of the harms of hitting children and urge parents to use more supportive forms of discipline. All organizations might consider becoming No-Hit Zones; faith-based organizations might consider following the example of Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton, whose congregants voted to make their church the first faith-based No-Hit Zone in the United States.
- Psychological maltreatment: Constant insults, belittling, and threats take their toll on children. Many parents just don’t pay close enough attention to their choice of words and tone — but in some families, terrorizing children seems to have become a sport. I’m shocked how many parents thinks it’s funny to scare the devil out of their child then post the results online for others to see.
Both hitting and psychological abuse are known sources of toxic stress for children that can affect brain development, behavior, and relationships.
Most parents would do better if they knew better; everyone can spread the word about the impact of hitting and psychological maltreatment. We can have a long-term effect by raising this generation of children to focus on the impact all their behaviors have on others. And let’s reach out to the grown-ups too; as Biden’s video explanation shows, it’s never too late to learn the lesson of considering the effects your behaviors have on others.
Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA, is the executive director of The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent and The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children. For more information, read her blog and follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter.
This post first appeared at philly.com