The more awareness we have as a society and as individuals, the more we can each do to prevent ongoing and future child abuse.
There are different types of child abuse, some of which are listed below:
Physical abuse – this includes intentionally physically harming a child or using excessive force when physically disciplining. (Though different cultures and beliefs see physical discipline differently, research shows that spanking often leads to increased aggressive behavior in children and has negative impacts on their cognitive and emotional development. It also fails to reach emotional regulation which is a vital life skill that leads to success as adults).
Sexual abuse – any sexual act on a child as well as exposing children to inappropriate sexual material or environments.
Physical/ medical neglect – this is the failure to provide for the needs of the child such as nutritional needs, shelter, clean clothes, as well as medical care. (This is sometimes due to the parent not being able to meet these needs for themselves either in which case they may need financial or resource assistance). Neglect also encompasses the lack of protection by a parent from any type of abuse inflicted by another person.
Psychological/ emotional abuse – using language or manipulation to hurt a child, holding children to unrealistic expectations, using direct or indirect means to cause a child to feel fear
Human trafficking – forcing children into or exploiting them for forced labor or sexual acts
One of the biggest things we can do on a micro level to prevent child abuse is to be self aware, set examples for others, provide support in ways you are able, and normalize the focus on the rights of children. Being self aware and setting examples for others would mean working on your own ability to emotionally regulate, manage anger and frustration, and problem solve. Whether you are role modeling this for your own children or showing other adults around you to do the same for themselves so that their children can experience the positive impact, you’re making a difference. For many people, therapy might be necessary or helpful to get to this point for themselves.
Support can be provided in a variety of ways such as (on a bigger scale) contributing money or volunteering time to an organization that works toward the goal of supporting families. It can also be provided on a more personal level. Child abuse often occurs in situations when an individual’s or family’s stress levels or circumstances have become so difficult that they are more easily irritable or unable to positively attend to their children’s needs. Any way you can help lessen the stress or impact of stress can help decrease incidents of child abuse – this could be checking in on those you know, lending a listening ear, offering to provide some occasional childcare, etc.
Lastly, you can contribute to the normalization and focus on the rights of children, in general. Changes in beliefs evolve over many years and generations. In our past as a society, children were seen as belongings without rights of their own. Fortunately, we’ve come far in this regard. However, we can continue to progress in this area by normalizing the attitude that children are vulnerable and it is our responsibility to teach them and provide them with safe environments. This is done through demonstrating and teaching emotional regulation rather than focusing on the concept of punishment. It is done through sharing content or informational posts on social media. You can also vote for politicians who have demonstrated their own beliefs in, or have policies on, supporting the rights of children. Think about which of these things you can do. Every little bit helps create change over time, and we are capable of protecting children if we all work together!