Child abuse is “all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.”(Butchart & Harvey, 2006). This can result in long lasting and, in more serious occasions, permanent impediments on the victim’s development. Childhood abuse had been proven to affect parts of the brain linked to cognitive, physical, emotional and even social development, all depending on the varied severity of the situation.
Four Areas Of DevelopmentChild development is the expected growth of a child. The rate and progress of a child’s development is evaluated individually for each of the four developmental domains, and describes what is typical for the majority of children in that age range. Physical Development refers to the actual body growth of the individual. This includes, height, weight, and development of the body structure. Cognitive Development is the development of what a child knows, understands, and the way a child processes information, solves problems, and thinks abstractly. It includes the intellectual capacity to comprehend data, which is often referred to as intelligence Social Development is how the child interacts with other people and groups, with the earliest social task being attachment. Examples of social tasks include developing relationships with adults and peers, assuming social roles, adopting group values and norms, and recognizing how the individual relates to society.Emotional Development is developing traits and characteristics, including an identity, self-esteem, and their mood.
They should also develop an understanding of the effect of their feelings and emotions, and that they are suitable for one’s age and the situation. Effects of Cognitive DevelopmentAbuse in the early years of life interferes with the growth and development of the toddler or infant’s brain and can result in cognitive developmental delay. Specifically, abused toddlers typically endure language and speech delays.
They may fail to use language as a method to communicate with others, but instead point or motion. Infants who have been abused are often immobile and unresponsive. Additionally, they often do not manipulate objects, or if they do, they do so in repetitive, primitive ways.
Abuse can cause a toddler or infant to be inactive, lack curiosity, refrain from exploring their environments. This restricts opportunities for learning. They often lack mastery of object permanence and development of basic problem-solving skills, as a result of the ill treatment they face.In older, school-aged children, cognitive skills may be at a level of a younger child. Their speech can be absent, delayed, or incomprehensible. They tend to be behind other children in their age group in articulation and pronunciation, and use words incorrectly. In some cases, they may even exhibit incomplete formation of sentences.
Children who are victims of abuse may develop an unusually short attention span, lack of interest in objects, and a severe inability to concentrate. Even as they get older, they will be in a lower cognitive stage than they should be. They will still hold egocentric perspectives, lack of problem solving ability, and be unable to organize and structure their thoughts. Their speech and language may be delayed or infantile, and they are usually unable to concentrate on school work, resulting in considerable difficulty in academics. During early adolescence, a teen may exhibit a limited ability to think hypothetically and to consider multiple perspectives. However, at this age, they should have already passed this stage in development.
During middle and late adolescence formal operational thinking becomes well integrated in most adolescents, however, one who has endured significant amounts of abuse may not develop formal operational thinking and may lack the ability to think hypothetically or logically, and to problem solve. Thinking processes may be typical of much younger children, for example, the youth may lack insight and the ability to understand other people’s perspectives. This can all result in poor performance in school.
Effects on Physical DevelopmentA child abuse victim will also suffer several physical development impediments, as a direct result of the abuse they face. Infants who have been abused can grow much slower than infants who have been sufficiently nourished, and depending on the severity,it can also result in brain damage. Abused infants and toddlers also have poor muscle tone and motor control, and may also exhibit delays in gross and fine motor development and coordination. They also fail to develop and perfect basic motor skills, as their infant years are crucial to this development. If they are physically injured, head injury can result in severe brain damage, blindness or deafness, epilepsy or cerebral palsy. Head injuries may also result in injury to the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in the brain, which can result in growth impairment. In more severe cases, abuse can lead to infant paralysis, comas, or even death. Toddlers who experience forms of abuse may be very small in stature, which is evidence of delayed physical growth.
Also as result of delayed physical growth, a toddler who has been abused will have poor muscle tone, and poor gross and fine motor coordination and control. They will also have trouble playing due to lack of needed motor skills. Due to poor immune system development, they are more susceptible to frequent illness; particularly upper respiratory illness and digestive discomforts. Older children and teens may show generalized physical developmental delays and lack the skills and coordination for activities that require perceptual-motor coordination. Again due to stunted immune development, they will be frequently sick or chronically ill. In adolescents, puberty may be affected by serious mistreatment. Effects on Emotional DevelopmentAbused infants often fail to develop basic trust, which can impair the development of healthy relationships. Maltreated infants are often apathetic or unresponsive to the environment, as a result of not being immediately introduced to a compassionate guardian.
An intently observant toddler may feel that they are considered “bad children”, therefore affecting their self esteem development. Toddlers often mimic behaviours they see, causing them to be violent towards other children. They will become fearful, and easily traumatized. In extreme cases, they may have night terrors, and seem to expect danger, later resulting in anxiety disorders. Older children may experience severe damage to self-esteem from the negative messages received from the abusive parent, or the lack of positive attention in an abusive environment. They will start to exhibit impulsive behaviour, and may have frequent emotional outbursts. They may not develop coping strategies to effectively manage stressful situations, as an abusive environment is not what children their age will be taught to manage.
Abused children are likely to show signs of generalized anxiety, depression, and emotional distress. Due to this, they may act out feelings by being bossy, aggressive, destructive, or by trying to control or manipulate other people. However, if they are punished for this behavior, they may learn that self-assertion is wrong and will lean to the other extreme by becoming more dependent. They may exhibit few opinions, show no strong likes or dislikes, lack initiative, give up quickly, and withdraw from challenges.Abused adolescents will exhibit many extreme emotional issues.
They may show signs of severe anxiety, depression, aggression, impulsive behavior, and antisocial behavior. They lack the internal coping abilities to deal with intense emotions, and therefore are at risk of much more intense mood swings and higher emotional levels than other adolescents. They may struggle to develop their self esteem, and therefore develop considerable problems in formulating a positive identity.
They are likely to have little or no trust in the future and may fail to plan for the future, often expecting failure in it. Effects on Social/Behavioural DevelopmentChildren who were abused often experience difficulty interacting with others. Their social development is affected by the lack of healthy relationships in their family life, a result of the abuse. Abused infants may fail to form secure attachments to primary caregivers, which prevents them from developing separation or stranger anxiety, and instead causes them to be passive, apathetic, and unresponsive to others. Additionally, they may become unresponsive to social stimulus such as not maintaining eye contact with others, or they may not become excited when talked to or approached, as infants at their expected social developmental stage should. Abused toddlers may not develop play skills, and often are unable to be engaged into reciprocal, interactive play. They may be unable to enter into reciprocal play relationships with peers, exhibiting behaviour such as: being unable to take turns, share, or negotiate with peers, or being overly aggressive, bossy, and competitive with peers. Abuse can cause a toddler to lack age appropriate play skills and normal interest and curiosity, and they may not actively explore and experiment.
School aged children and adolescents who have experienced abuse are often suspicious and mistrustful of adults, and may not turn to adults for comfort and help when in need. They will often feel inferior and unworthy around other children, resulting in difficulty making friends, and feeling overwhelmed by peer expectations for performance. This may cause them to withdraw from social contact and have difficulty maintaining relationships with peers. Due to a lack of relationship within the family, older children will display a generalized dependence on peers, exaggerate group norms or behaviors to gain acceptance, or demonstrate ambivalence about relationships. Abused youth, particularly those who have been sexually abused, often have considerable difficulty in sexual relationships, due to intense feelings of guilt, shame, poor self-esteem, and a lack of trust. In conclusion, child abuse has many severely negative effects on the child. Child abuse victims, may experience cognitive delays, physical ailments, issues with emotional stability, and trouble socializing and establishing relationships.
The repercussions of child abuse are life long and greatly stunt a child’s development in every domain.