Children rely on caregivers, either parents or other individuals responsible for a minor, in the satisfaction of their essential needs. Food, shelter, security, and many other things are the basics of child care, and many people are deprived of it due to abuse. Child abuse can take many forms and be an act or failure to act. Some common examples include name-calling, failure to nourish, or more severe actions such as physical harm. Any kind of abuse has an adverse impact on a child’s wellbeing, both physical and mental, and can impact their social behavior. This research paper will define child abuse, review the statistics and other data on the topic and discuss the impact of abuse on the social behavior of children.
Children are a vulnerable population because they rely on their caregivers for the provision of care and necessities. This factor also makes them a target for such behavior because they cannot recognize abuse or report it unless their caregivers teach them how to do this. From a legal perspective, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act valid in the United States defines children abuse as any act or failure to act that resulted in physical, emotional harm to a minor, sexual abuse, exploitation, or death (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services et al., 2020). Hence, child abuse can manifest in different forms, and the result of it is any harm caused to a minor.
Child abuse is a significant concern both for healthcare professionals and social workers. Firmin and Rayment-McHugh (2020) state that “the abuse of children is a global public health concern” (p. 230). Considering this, the author highlights the well-acknowledged by the psychologist’s link between the environment and behavior. Social psychologists, in particular, have highlighted the relationship between context and behavior, and experiments, such as the one by Zimbardo show that the environment can prompt one to behave violently. These theories imply that when growing up in an abusive environment, the
child’s behaviour is altered to suit these conditions. Hence, child abuse should be reviewed from two perspectives: the effect that it has on a child’s mental and physical health and the impact it has on their social behaviour.
Child abuse is widespread globally, and many adults report being abused during childhood. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Crime Survey for England and Wales found that one out of five adults aged from 18 to 74 recalls being subjected to some form of abuse as a child (Elkin, 2020). When using this data for the entire population, one can conclude that approximately 8.5 million people were abused before the age of 16. This statistic also includes the instances of neglect, such as caregivers not providing food, clothing or other necessities to a child. Therefore, the cases of child neglect are very common, and the statistics show that millions of people are subjected to abuse or neglect.
In the United States, a report from Childhelp shows that there are at least 3 million cases of child abuse reported to authorities each year (“The issue of child abuse,” n.d.). This number is troubling considering the fact that this state is a well-developed country with a good system of social support and help, yet many children suffer from abuse. At least 28% of the adult population report experiencing physical abuse, such as being beaten, and more than 20% report being sexually abused (“The issue of child abuse,” n.d., para. 4). The high prevalence of these cases is alarming, calling for a need to review the way social workers approach child care supervision and the way the general public views child care.
The environment, in which a child grows up, has an effect on the likelihood of child abuse. For instance, Tang (2019) states that households where their parents suffer from substance abuse, alcoholism and other issues have a higher prevalence of child abuse when compared to families with no substance abuse issues. However, troubled households are not necessarily an indicator of child abuse, and it can happen in different circumstances.
Types of Abuse
Notably, abuse can manifest in different forms, including physical, emotional, verbal, sexual or even technological. Abuse is often reviewed as an action, but it can also be a result of inaction. Neglect, for instance, is a failure to satisfy a child’s basic needs that the children themselves cannot address due to their age (Tang, 2019). Neglect can be an intentional decision to not provide children with the necessities or a result of failure to understand the basic needs of a minor.
A type of abuse that is usually difficult to identify and recognise is emotional abuse. This type is also referred to as psychological abuse because, with it, the psychological needs of a child are unsatisfied (Tang, 2019). This may include attempts to scar a child, humiliate them and cause them to feel negative emotions. Moreover, attempts to isolate a child and ignore them are also classified as emotional abuse. The result is a deprivation effect on one’s confidence, abnormal fears, or attention-seeking behaviours as an attempt to gain affection (Tang, 2019). These examples show that emotional neglect, like any other type of abuse, impacts a child’s social behaviour since they begin to act differently, either with less self-confidence or in ways that would allow them to get affection. Technological abuse is becoming more common, where smartphones, laptops and other devices are used to mistreat children. Physical abuse or any type of exploitation refers to the inability of a minor to make an informed and conscious choice about what they want to do. Thus, the different kinds of abuse cause harm to the child’s wellbeing and social behaviour.
Impact of Child Abuse
Child abuse can have a lingering effect on an individual’ development, behaviour and social interactions. Some example of the effect that abuse has on children is their inability to study, interact with others, lack of confidence and a change of behaviour (Tang, 2019). Since children suffering from abuse cannot protect themselves, they suffer from the consequences, the psychological effects of this abuse or the physical harm they experienced. Maltreatment also results in issues connected to socialisation * In extreme cases, abuse can lead children to commit crimes and engage in dangerous behaviour.
Abuse can have an adverse effect on a child’s mental health and their interactions with others. Social behaviour is any type of interaction or connection between two or more people where one affects the other. Since abuse affects children’s psychological wellbeing, it is possible that their social behaviour may become questionable as a result of such acts. Some crimes that gained traction from the general public were committed by children with an implication that their experience of abuse cased them to commit the offence, and these examples will be discussed in this section.
If a child commits a major offence, the main question is whether they suffered from abuse or neglect that caused them to behave violently, or what caused them to learn to behave violently. In the book Children and Trauma, Tang (2019) focuses on the relationship between child maltreatment and juvenile delinquency to determine the consequences of abuse for the future development of children. There are examples of when children who committed a major offence, such as murder were subjected to abuse, however, there are also examples of children who were subjected to abuse and did not commit crimes. Urie Bronfenbrenner’s theory of ecological systems helps explain one part of the debate or how the environment f a child at different levels affects their behaviour (Tang, 2019). An example of these microsystem’s connection would be a child who experiences abuse at home and has anger outbursts at school, or a child bullied at school who is withdrawn at home. Hence, each of the five systems affects the child and their social behaviour, however, a child has an impact on these systems as well.
Abuse may have a varying effect on a child’s social behaviour since innate characteristics play a role in response to this trauma. Tang (2019) warns against misinterpreting the data, since “correlation does not always equal causation” and more evidence are needed to support the claim that children who were abused are more inclined to commit crimes (Tang, 2019, p. 10). Apart from the examples of children who grew up in troubled homes, for example without a father and with an alcoholic mother as in the case of Venables and Thompson who were convicted of murder at the age of ten, there are others who do not commit a crime. Tang (2019) cites an example of Aaron Fischer, who also lived in a troubled home and was a victim of sexual abuse as a child. Fisher never committed any crimes, unlike Venables and Thompson. Moreover, there are cases, such as Jordan Brown, who killed his future stepmother at the age of 11, where the investigators never found any signs of abuse or neglect (Tang, 2019). Hence, not all cases of child abuse or neglect result in violent and criminal behaviour.
There are several approaches to viewing children and their behaviour. Tang (2019) states that in the Middle Ages, the “original sin view” was common, which meant that all people were born sinners and therefore troubling social behaviour has nothing to do with the environment, character or maltreatment (p. 5). With this viewpoint, abuse should not significantly affect the behaviour of children, however, psychological and social studies show evidence contradicting this claim, and therefore, this theory is no longer valid. John Lock’s tabula rasa approach implies that children are born as neither bad nor good, instead, their upbringing defines their behaviour in the future. With this philosophy, the viewpoint of the correlation between abuse and troubling social behaviour is fitting. Finally, Jean-Jaques Rousseau proposed the innate goodness views, following which children are born good and remain adequate if allowed to grow naturally. Hence, the interference in their behaviour, such as abuse of any kind can turn their social behaviour from good to bad. With these theories, the nature-nurture conflict arises, or the questions of what affects a child more, their innate biological and psychosocial characteristics or the environment where they live.
In any state, social workers aim to prevent child abuse or end it by helping children or by removing them from their families. However, the statistics show that the prevalence of these incidents is high, even in developed countries, which is alarming. Regardless of whether child abuse if a cause of juvenile delinquency, it is a trigger or has no relation to the inborn inclination to commit offences, child abuse is unacceptable.
Overall, this paper examines the issue of childhood abuse and social behaviour. In this case, abuse is a broad term that includes any adverse behaviour directed at children: maltreatment, negligence, violence or emotional mistreatment. The result is harm, physical or emotional or exploitation of a minor. The statistics show that millions of people report being abused as children, even in developed countries. Despite the acceptance among the general public, child abuse does not always result in the criminal behaviour of these individuals. Hence, a child’s innate characteristics may be more important in regards to what predisposes them to commit crimes and to adverse social behaviour. At the same time, abuse can be a trigger to these characteristics. Thus, there is no concrete evidence suggesting that child abuse leads to bad social behaviour, although abuse undoubtedly has an impact on the development of an individual. However, the high prevalence of child abuse and the adverse effect of it suggests the need to address this problem.
Elkin, M. (2020). Child abuse in England and Wales: January 2020. Web.
Firmin, C. & Rayment-McHugh, S. (2020). Two roads, one destination: Community and organizational mechanisms for contextualizing child abuse prevention in Australia and the UK. International Journal on Child Maltreatment: Research, Policy and Practice, 3, 229–24. Web.
The issue of child abuse. (n.d.). Web.
Tang, C. M. (2019). Children and crime. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2020). Child maltreatment 2018. Web.