Child abuse has been practiced in many cultures and geographical locations since the beginning of time. Some of these behaviors have originated out of ignorance for the physical and emotional needs of children. Other reasons come from necessities to help preserve the survival of the family unit. Children were sold as slaves and beaten to maintain productivity. Parents used children as a source of labor, especially in rural areas.

In 19th-century England, illegitimate children were put out to nurse. In 80% of these cases, the infant died.

In 1871, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was established, and in 1909 the American Association for the Study and Prevention of Infant Mortality was created.

At all levels of society, there have always been parents who abuse their children. The poor and the wealthy, the educated and the uneducated parents abuse their children.

Religion has supported the use of physical punishment. Parents would threaten their children that they would burn in hell if they didn’t do what they were told to do.

A number of parents have difficulties managing life and the more stress they experience the more likely the children will suffer. Some parents are poorly informed and are anxious about their own ability to parent effectively. Sometimes the mother may blame the child for making her life difficult and she may punish the child for its existence.

These parents are unable to understand the needs of the child for physical care, protection and nurturance. Moreover, they have a limited ability to provide love and affection and lastly to meet the needs of a child’s developing mind and its relationship with the environment. The ability to show empathy and compassion is critical for the development of self-worth in a child. Children need to know that they are valued.

Parental loss and deprivation are a hallmarks of generational transmission of abuse. Abuse may result from a distorted concept of the role of a child in a parent’s life. When an infant is neglected, it may fail to thrive and die. A child may be told, with some regularity, that he is unloved, hated, unwanted, stupid or ugly, which is emotional abuse and fuels the parent’s dislike for the child.

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These are the same messages that an abusive parent said to the parent who is now abusing their child. The parent may project their negative attributes on to the child; the one’s they believe caused their parents to abuse them.

Children see their parents as their saviors from the perils of life and cannot understand why the parent is physically abusive. Then, they believe that they are deserving of the abuse. Here are the seeds of poor self-esteem. The child grows up with an image of themselves as bad, unlovable and undeserving of being treated any other way. And the cycle of abuse continues.

When children are abused, they grow up believing they are unlovable and cannot trust others. They see the world as hostile, unforgiving and dangerous. They grow up lonely, depressed and anxious. It is not until they are old enough to leave home when they search for kindred spirits and someone to love them. Unfortunately, it is often at any cost.

Adolescents may end up being involved with multiple partners because their promiscuity is the only way they know to get the attention of others.

Some abused children grow up to be aggressive and negative. These children often end up in juvenile hall and later in jail. The world has not been good to them, and they will not be good to the world.

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Dr. Lynda M. Gantt, Ph.D., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Santa Maria.