Every child needs a safe environment, and child abuse can leave lasting damage on victims. Child abuse takes many forms, and all types of child abuse have the potential to permanently damage victims. It’s crucial to understand how serious the effects of child abuse are and to know what to look for if you believe that a child you know is suffering any kind of abuse.
Physical abuse encompasses any physical harm intentionally inflicted on a child. This includes punching, kicking, slapping, throwing, or otherwise harming the child physically. Such injuries commonly result in short-term effects, such as broken bones, cuts, scrapes, bruises, and other similar injuries. Common indicators of physical abuse include visible wounds, torn or bloody clothing, or the child appearing atypically skittish or timid around adults. However, physical abuse has the potential to permanently damage victims. Severe physical abuse can lead to a range of disabilities, including:
- Abusive head trauma. This is the most common cause of traumatic death for infants. Also known as “Shaken Baby Syndrome,” this condition may not immediately visibly manifest, but it entails severe damage to the spinal cord and brain due to blunt force trauma or aggressive shaking. Shaken baby syndrome has a 25% mortality rate, but almost every victim has some kind of serious health complication as a result of the abuse.
- Impaired brain development. Children’s brains are still developing, and abuse can impede their progress and hinder some areas of the brain. Physical abuse can lead to learning disabilities, cognitive impairments, and mental health disorders. Some children who experience physical abuse can wind up in a perpetual state of hyper-vigilance, anxiety, and impulsivity.
Physical abuse can also include neglect or the willful ignoring of a child’s basic needs. Neglected children often suffer from malnutrition and dehydration. Childhood is a crucial part of a person’s development, and lacking the appropriate nutrition can leave lasting damage, such as cognitive and developmental impairments, eating disorders, psychological disorders, or even death.
Child abuse doesn’t have to be physical to leave lasting damage. Emotional abuse takes many forms and affects every victim differently – sometimes with permanent effects. Abusive adults may intimidate, threaten, berate, belittle, or otherwise damage children with words or actions. Emotional abuse can lead to personality disorders, depression, low self-esteem, and trouble maintaining personal relationships.
Infants are extremely susceptible to psychological trauma. Infants require parental attention and constant care. When an infant is ignored or neglected, such as with the previously-acceptable “cry it out” method of soothing babies, his or her survival instincts trigger. A crying baby that receives no answer will indeed eventually stop crying, but not because the child doesn’t need anything. If a child cries for his or her parents and receives no response, the baby will stop crying and become still. This is the body’s instinctual self-preservation response, and babies stop crying to conserve energy and stay alive.
Perhaps the most heinous type of child abuse is sexual abuse or any sexual contact with children. Children aren’t considered capable of consenting to sexual conduct, and sexual abuse can leave lifelong emotional scars. Children who have been sexually abused may later develop various psychological issues including:
- Drug and substance abuse
- Eating disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Dangerous or risky sexual proclivities
- Detachment, or an aversion to physical contact with others
A child may not be directly abused and still live in an abusive environment. When a child witnesses domestic violence or any violent behaviors, such events can permanently skew the child’s perception of adult interactions. Children exposed to domestic violence typically are at a heightened risk of developing behavioral and psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety, and problems in school. Some children who have witnessed such abuse display no indications of distress, so assessing the toll is sometimes difficult.
Ultimately, any type of child abuse can leave lasting physical, emotional, and developmental scars. Many children can regain a measure of stability once they’ve been removed from an abusive environment. The road is often difficult, but counseling and support can help abused and neglected children deal with their experiences in healthy, constructive ways.