Most parents would probably say that they could easily spot child abuse and would never do something so harmful themselves. But a new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics finds that parents may be unintentionally inflicting not physical, but harder-to-define emotional abuse on their children.
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, says that emotional abuse can be just as harmful as other forms of abuse but it is very hard to define. Roberta Hibbard, co-author of the report and director of child protection programs at Indiana University and Riley Hospital for Children, Indianapolis, defines abuse to USA Today as “an interaction between a parent and child inflicts harm and causes difficulty with the child’s emotional well-being and development.” Hibbard describes the most common forms of emotional abuse parents inflict as repeated insults, threats, ignoring a child or even being too uninvolved or disinterested. Everyday discipline can sometimes cross a thin line into abuse, such as when the duration of a time-out becomes unreasonable. This abuse can later lead to troubles in school and relationships, as well as tendencies toward aggression or mental illness.
The report points out that while emotional abuse may be one of the most common forms of child maltreatment, little research has been done on how to educate parents on the issue. Alec Miller, chief of child and adolescent psychology at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York, told The Huffington Post , “It’s hard to distinguish what is a single incident of poor parenting or one indiscretion where you say something critical, versus something that would qualify as abuse…As a parent myself…I make mistakes, and yet I try not to repeat my mistakes." Authors of the study also point out the importance of pediatricians watching for signs of emotional abuse much as they would for signs of physical or sexual abuse.
Where do you draw the line between tough discipline or a moment of less-than-stellar parenting vs. emotional abuse?