Attitudes Towards Psychological Mistreatment of Children

Kell, Ina June. 1992. Attitudes Towards Psychological Mistreatment of Children. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

There are now research findings which highlight the fact that child mistreatment is not a rare occurrence but part of an established and ingrained child-rearing philosophy in most societies. This philosophy (ii) is one which sanctions, and even encourages, the use of moderate physical and verbal force to discipline children. Most countries continue to emphasise severe child mistreatment as a problem of individual children and their parents. Severe child mistreatment however is known to occur among all groups in the population; these groups include parents with no economic or social reasons to mistreat their children, in contrast to parents living in deprived circumstances who, for a variety of economic and social reasons, are more likely to subject their children to abusive acts. Most adults have been victims of some kind of childhood mistreatment but this is not perceived as such because it is so universal. As the adults are not aware that they have been mistreated in their childhood they use the habits of child-rearing they experienced in their own childhood to bring up children in their care and thus the cycle is repeated. The stories of savage acts of cruelty and neglect which make the media headlines are the tip of the iceberg of child mistreatment and lead many people to believe that these acts are the only type of child mistreatment. The day-to-day reality is more subtle and does not appear to be doing the same kind of damage but it is only different in degree of severity and not in kind of mistreatment. In cases of extreme mistreatment of children where parents become aware of what is happening in the family they are usually afraid to go for help to the preventive services in case their children are removed from the family home.

Tzeng et al (1991) in their evaluation of theories of child mistreatment conclude that most studies in the area tend to focus on treatment and intervention issues. These studies usually employ a small number of clinical subjects and rarely address the complex nature of all aspects of theoretical issues. The authors found that in recent years, however, a growing number of notable exceptions have simultaneously considered theoretical issues of quality, solid empirical research, and overall integration. These researchers include Gil (1987); Hart et al (1987); Garbarino et al (1986); Finkelhor (1984); and Gelles (1983). Professor Tzeng et al conclude that all the contemporary literature in this area reflects a desperate need to develop a comprehensive integrated theory that will address the etiology and dynamics of child mistreatment and will also simultaneously address different societal service functions. This ideal theory should emphasise the importance of multiple factors and their interactions in both subjective and objective terms. To overcome some of the difficulties the authors conclude that an integrated theory is required to link seemingly diverse and conflicting disciplines. They anticipate that through both process and product evaluations, etiological factors that cause child mistreatment may be halted and eliminated, while factors that oppose child mistreatment may be promoted and maintained.

To address some of the above issues the main aim of this thesis was to examine the values of different groups of adults towards child mistreatment. Data for the thesis were gathered from three separate studies: The First Study was an investigation of thirty families registered on a Central Child Abuse Register in order to obtain preliminary informatiom for the blueprint of The Second Study. The method of analysis was Content Analysis. The Second Study examined the values and underlying attitudes of different groups of adults who were either professional carers (or not), towards various aspects of child mistreatment. The research instrument was a survey questionnaire. The findings of The Second Study indicated differences in values between males and females; and the subsequent literature research revealed many theoretical assertions that all forms of child mistreatment include psychological mistreatment. Thus The Third Study examined the values and underlying attitudes of individual male and female parents towards moderate psychological mistreatment. The research instrument was a survey questionnaire.

The present thesis found that:
(1) significant differences of attitudes tended to exist between groups who were professional carers and those who were not professional carers, and also between males and females; in particular in the areas of "physical punishment of children", and "childhood sexuality" and that these differences may be greater than is currently recognised or accepted, and
(2) significant differences of attitudes tended to exist between male and female parents regarding the "psychological terrorising" and "psychological corrupting" of children.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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child mistreatment

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Date Deposited:

29 May 2020 10:30

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 14:24


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