In 2011, more than 118,000 children were physically abused in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau, and more than 60,000 were psychologically abused. About 7 percent of those abused were between the ages of 12 and 14; older teens were less likely to be abused, with a rate of 3.7 percent for 17-year-olds. Physical and verbal abuse against teens can have long-lasting emotional and physical health effects on them.
1. Verbal Abuse and Behavior
Verbal abuse is aggressive behavior expressed as name-calling, belittling, swearing, negative criticism, threats or ordering a child around, according to Dr. Asa Don Brown, writing for the Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association. Brown notes that those who are verbally abused can develop low self-esteem, act out in a negative fashion, use alcohol or other substances to dull emotional pain or turn to self-mutilation. In addition, they might develop anti-social behaviors as a result of the abuse.
2. Depression, Anxiety and Self-criticism
A Florida State University study found that people who were verbally abused as children were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety and to become self-critical adults. People who had been abused were twice as likely to have suffered a mood disorder and had 1.6 times as many symptoms of depression and anxiety. The study included people from ages 15 to 54. About 30 percent of the study participants had been verbally abused by a parent. The abuse included insults, swearing, threats of physical abuse and spiteful comments or behavior. Those who had been physically abused also tended to be extremely self-critical.
3. Physical Abuse and Behavior
Physical abuse is more easily detected because it often involves visible bruises, burns, welts or injuries such as broken bones. Abuse can lead to behaviors such as lying, stealing, fighting and aggression, or behavior such as being shy, defensive or dependent. Teens who have been abused might turn to prostitution, run away or become delinquent, according to the National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence, which notes that the effects of childhood abuse can last a lifetime. Teens who have been abused might also abuse others.
4. Abuse and Emotions
Teens who are being or have been abused might have trouble eating, sleeping or concentrating, according to KidsHealth. Some might develop problems in school because they are angry or frightened, or because they don’t just care. They might become distrustful and feel angry toward other people or have difficulty making friends. Some will even attempt suicide. It is not uncommon for a teen who is abused to feel guilty and embarrassed or to blame themselves. Many teens will not tell anyone about the abuse, particularly if the abuser threatens other people the teen cares about.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau: Abuse
- Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association: What are the Effects of Verbal Abuse on Children?
- Florida State University: Invisible Scars -- Verbal Abuse Triggers Adult Anxiety, Depression
- National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence: Child Abuse Information
- Kids Health: Abuse
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