Simple child neglect is not as simple as it seems

Confirming the occurrence of trauma, adults who were neglected as children experience symptoms that relate to any physical or clear traumatic events.
by Chrystine Mhanna

31 May 2019 | 16:11

Source: by Annahar

  • by Chrystine Mhanna
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 31 May 2019 | 16:11

A representational photo. (AP Photo)

BEIRUT: A child’s lifestyle that is far from physical or sexual abuse is not an utterly healthy one, and the presence of emotional abuse or neglect in children’s lives can equally lead to a trauma upon growing up.

What makes neglect a trauma?

Many parents might consider their parenting habits adequate enough; in fact, they might even deny the existence of any neglect towards their children as psychologist and psychotherapist Christina Riachy says. “What they don’t know is that neglect can even be more harmful than physical assault sometimes,” she stresses.

The traumatic effect of neglect starts with the fact that children or dependent adults are the only susceptible parties. As Susanne Babbel, Ph.D., says, for someone to get neglected they have to be reliant on other independent members in physical and emotional wellbeing; this reassures that neglect during a child’s dependent phase can have traumatic and long-lasting results.

How exactly is a child neglected?

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services documented 3.4 million referrals to child protective services. Among these cases, 75.3% were neglected, 17.2% were physically abused, and 8.4% were sexually abused, taking into consideration the lack of data to many unreported cases.

Neglect in the mentioned cases is not just relevant to emotions; it also includes physical, educational, and medical failures to take care of children according to The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. Once children are experiencing a shortage in physical necessities – food, clothing, shelter–inadequate education, or inappropriate health care, they are enrolled under the title of neglect. Likewise, neglect can consist of emotional rejection, verbal abuse, teasing, or terrorizing children.

One might wonder how could parents have such a distant relationship with their children if they love them enough, but what we’d be missing is that such apathy is not intentional by the parents and that they might be completely ambivalent about their children’s needs due to their own overwhelming responsibilities.

According to a study undergone by Stephen Ludwig and Anthony Rostai in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, such lack of attention could relate back to parental reasons such as a lack of emotional support in their adult relationships, reliance on themselves for support, or the fear of their own dependency needs, thus reflecting a lack of attention to the emotional gap that they might be leaving in their child’s life upon growing up. The study also suggests that parents might feel so angry about having children that they would simply ignore them.

“My husband and I did not plan on having three children at such an early age, yet the effort we put into giving them their vital needs makes it harder to focus on every emotional detail while raising them,” a Lebanese mother explains herself to Annahar. This can be the life of most busy partners yet the consequences of such neglect could nudge the parents to care for the tiniest emotional details that their children are expecting.

How can neglect affect a child’s development?

Confirming the occurrence of trauma, adults who were neglected as children experience symptoms that relate to any physical or clear traumatic events. The Child Welfare Information Gateway states a list of consequences that includes the physical, psychological, or behavioral indicators of neglect. Children would grow up having poor physical health if met with a lack of physical care; likewise they can obtain low-self esteem, depression, problems maintaining healthy relationships, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and the list goes on for psychological disorders; not to forget the behavioral consequences of juvenile delinquency, alcohol and drug abuse, or criminal behavior once a child is extremely marginalized.

Would every neglected child experience long-term reactions?

The identification of any results is definitely not applicable to all conditions in the same way. The previously mentioned results can vary from one person to another with a reference to the child’s age when neglected, the type of neglect, and the frequency and duration of the neglecting phase, according to research done by psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the 1970s.

Segmenting each condition would also apply to situations of divorce. For instance, neglect can be avoided when parents manage to have constant communication with their children. However, many cases of divorce are to cause a void in children’s lives according to Riachy. She also adds that some children tend to do the same mistakes as their parents’ and end up in a similar divorce as adults due to the long-lasting effect of neglect reflected in their lives.

Although childhood neglect and its consequences are not to be easily identified or linked to each other, science has specified enough evidence to prove the importance of such linkage between each condition of neglect and its severe respective outcome. This, in turn, inspirits the fact that no matter what is the justification of a parent, “Comfort, nourishment, shelter, and care should be things that a child can take for granted,” as Babbel writes in the beginning of her study.   

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