The Des Moines Register from Des Moines, Iowa on October 16, 1977 · Page 57
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October 16, 1977

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The Des Moines Register from Des Moines, Iowa · Page 57

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Des Moines, Iowa
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Sunday, October 16, 1977
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Page 57
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FAMILY/FRIENDS/ FOOD/FASHION SECTION E DES MOINES SUNDAY REGISTER • OCTOBER 16,1977 itf 1977 DM NtaMn ftwMir Md TrlMM COIWMV ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^F^^^^ffffffffffUjfffHffffHfg^BgfgfKf^l*****^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^-^-^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Emotional scars of children: Many parents unaware they're the cause By SHERRY R1CCH1ARD1 Photo by BOB NANDELL Moit parents wouldn't dream of physically abusing their children, but how often do they stop to consider "What are we doing to their minds?" Psychological abase can be more damaging to children than physical abuse in the long run, according to Dr. Rick Jennings, a psychologist in the children's unit at the Mental Health Institute at Independence. Most parents, be believes, aren't even aware they're doing it "The abuse isn't intentional in most cases, but that doesn't make it any less dangerous," says Jennings. "The problems of physically battered children seem to get the publicity, but the majority of youngsters I see are suffering from mental, not physical, abuse." Jennings has counseled hundreds of children whose personalities are damaged by the treatment they receive at home. He defines this kind of abuse as, "an adult repeatedly interacting with a child in a way to impair the child's emotional growth or development" "The one-shot psychic trauma that causes a child to have a mental breakdown is a myth as far as I'm concerned," Jennings says. "It's repeatedly going through a experience — such as rejection — that causes the real harm. "Sadly, it happens even with well- meaning parents who don't know bow to act differently." Mentally abused children, he says, usually have problems in school, are depressed, withdrawn or aggressive; some are suicidal. Rejection syndrome "Rejection by loved ones hurts children the most and makes them the angriest At first, they see themselves as unloved, then as unlovable. Eventually, they act in a way to make that a reality, as if to say, TU give you good reason to hate me.' "The side effects of rejection can occur under far less dramatic circumstances than walking out on a child. The constant shrugging off of affection or simply not paying attention to a child can do it," Jennings says. For some, the rejection is extreme, as in case of Mary, a 9-year-old, who is being treated at an Iowa mental institution. Recently, Mary's mother tried to explain why she no longer wants Mary with her. "I know I'm a horrible parent for saying this, but I don't love her. I bate myself for feeling that way, but at least I never hit her," said the 34-year-old divorcee. According to medical diagnosis, Mary suffers from severe psychological abuse caused by parental rejection. After her father abandoned them two years ago, Mary became the scapegoat for her mother's depression; finally, the child had a mental breakdown. Usually, Mary doesn't talk or eat. At night, she often wakes up screaming. Mary's arms are marked with scars where she has bitten them — a self-punishment for "losing" her parents' love, doctors say. Most cases are not as severe as Mary's,- according to Jennings, but subtle mental abuse can be harmful, too. Jennings' research on adult-child relationships has been published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, but his "real" credentials, he says, "come from spending thousands of hours talking with children about what goes on in their lives." "The kindest thing parents can-do is to work out their own problems. If mom and dad are depressed, it's hard for them to have a positive effect on the children," Jennings says. "There is a battered parent syndrome, too," he adds. "We see a lot of abused parents who have endured a lot from their kids. They need an outlet for their negative feelings; we try to help them deal with that." No magic formulas Jennings admits there are no magic formulas to ensure mental health, but with the help of other staff members at the institute, he has compiled a list of questions parents might ask themselves to determine whether they are giving their children an emotionally healthy start in life. "No parent can be perfect all the time," he says. "And a few violations of any one of these will not send a child to a psychiatric ward, but they can serve as danger signals for us." The most crucial questions, as he sees them, are: • Am I modeling the very kind of behavior I'm later going to punish my child for? Example: Parents who require their children to be prompt but who themselves are always late. Jennings' view: "Parents are the psychological mirrors children use to build their identities. Their whole lives are affected by the conclusions they draw. Too often, we put them in a double bind by telling them to act one way while they see us acting the opposite." • Do I deal with my child consistently? Example: A child brings a bad report card home and is punished severely, but when his grades improve, no one pays attention. Jeaniigs' view: "One of the most harmful things parents can do for children is to deal with them inconsis- tenty. This causes the child to lose the 'if-then* concept that reminds him, 'If I do this, then that will happen.' Consistency provides psychological safety." • What am I doing to help build, or destroy, my child's self-concept? Example: A parent breaks an important date with a child, thus sending the message that, "You're not important enough for me to make time for you." Jennings' view: "Parents constantly are provided with opportunities to build up or tear down a child's self- esteem. Strong self-concept is based on two major convictions: 'I am lovable and I am worthwhile.' It's up to parents to nurture these positive feelings." • Do I use my child as a battleground to get even with my mate? Example: One parent forces the child to lie about the other to win approval, such as, "I love you, dad, and you're right. Mom is no good." Jennings' view: "In this situation, the parent reinforces dishonesty by offering the ultimate reward of love. Splitting loyalities, especially in a broken home, is a sure way to create character deficiencies. It's vitally important for each parent to give the child 'permission* to love the other one." • Do I empathize with my child? Example: A parent tells a child, "Don't worry about going to the dentist. It won't hurt." Jennings' view: "Parents are better off expressing their true feelings and talking to the child about how they handle certain emotions instead of pretending they never experienced them. It would be wiser to say, 'Sure, I'm scared when I go to the dentist and here's how I handle it.'" • Do I "act out" through my child? Example: A father, who' failed at being a successful athlete in high school, pushes his son into sports. Jennings' view: "Parents need to do some soul-searching and ask themselves, 'Am I pushing my youngster to do the things I didn't accomplish as a child?' It's healthier for children to work toward individual growth in their own manner and in their own time." • Am I looking at my child as an individual or constantly comparing him to someone else? Example: A mother tells her son, "Your father's no good and you're just like him." Jennings' view: "If a youngster's life is filled with criticism, lack of respect and high demands, he will feel unlovable and unworthwhile. We should work at making children confident about handling their environment." Elsa Doyle, who has been a social worker at the institute for 13 years, counsels with parents of troubled youths. She says, "It's not unusual to discover that an abusing parent was an abused child. Some got gypped themselves when they were kids, so they end up passing along their ignorance about parenting. "It's very painful for them to recognize and admft their mistakes. Nobody has children with the idea of being a bad parent." A top-notch family show: Mormon TV commercial By WILLIAM SIMBRO The Church of Jesu Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormon Church) has been on a seven-year crusade throogh the broadcast media to promote healthy family relation* &nd to combat psychological abuse of children. You have protebly MM the television public wnrk* spot that begins wtifca be? ru*Mftf excitedly into tae twoM Mdutaf "Look. Dad. 1 got two 'A'*.'" The father taoit* from "Haven't 1 told yen u> stop slamming the door!" and the boy's face falls in dismay. The scene switches to a girl telling her mother that she has done the dishes. Instead of expressing appreciation, the mother asks if she has cleaned the sink. Those two incidents, along with an example of how the parent might have better handled the situation, make up the SO-aecond version of the "Good Behavior" spots. It is the 1977 version of the Mormon's "Homefront" series. The 60-second version also includes a perspiring lad telling his father he had mowed the lawn and being gruffly asked if he had swept the sidewalk and put the bicycles away. It also has a teen-ager coming home with the groceries and being told by mother, "I hope you got everything." Ttus year's aeries won the Cleo award, the Academy Award of advertising. given by the Advertising A»of America, for . Each tpot give* a negative e, then i pwiuve une. For instance, the second time around the father of the boy with the good report card says "Great! Come on up and let's talk about it" "The (Mormon) Church has always been interested in the strengthening of the American family," said John Kinnear, associate manager of radio and television, in a telephone interview from Salt Lake City, Utah. "We believe a strong family unit is essential For the seven years of our 'Homefront' series we have stressed development of family solidarity." Kinnear said every effort is made to make the productions professional in quality and psychologically sound. He said the response both from broadcasters and the public has been overwhelmingly favorable. He said nearly half of the nation's radio stations and about 90 per cent of the television stations have carried the spot*. Through the seven years, he said, hut Afpipftm+fi^ Qgj received ooly one negative letter about the saie>. It w*j from a woman who nu*- uu<ic,r»HAKi and t&uught the spot* were advocating the negative behavior. One year's series stressed the tendency of parents to label children. It included a mother telling her little child to eat his cereal faster and saying "You're such a slow poke." Another in the "Labels" series had a mother telling her daughter, who was trying on her sister's slacks, "You're so dumb." The tag line at the end of each spot in that series reminded parents that "You can reinforce your child or put him down, depending on what labels you use. Labels are good or bad." The titles of some of the other series included "Listening is the beginning of understanding;" "Give your children everything, give them your time;" and "If you love them, tell them." The spots end with an indication that they are put out by the Mormons. But tnere t* no pitch for Joining or making contact with that couch. The ureas is on promoting under- good f * Mri nf>VMH'f ^H"** and beaJtby rektiontcip* in the family. Child's self-esteem: His key to life In her book, "Your Child's SelfEsteem: The Key to His Life," Dorothy Corkille Briggs, writes, "The cornerstone of the love that nurtures is psychological safety." Briggs, a family and child counselor, provides formulas for parents on how to help children build positive self-identities and feel "safe" within the home. "Helping children build high self-esteem is the key to successful parenthood," she says. Briggs lists seven basic ingredients "for permitting love to be felt by a child." The ingredients, along with comments from the author are: • The safety of trust "Let your child know when and where you're going and when you'll return. Avoid sudden, unpleasant surprises. Help youngsters on visits to the dentist or doctor by frankly diyugypg what they can expect Steer clear of promises you can't keep." • The safety of nonjudgment. "Blame, or negative judgment, is at the core of emotional disorder and low self-esteem. Judgments are troublemakers; the secret for safety is to react but to suspend judgment" • The safety of being cherished. "Children must feel valued, precious and special —just because they exist Then, deep down, they can like who they are. Being cherished nurtures the feeling of being loved." • The safety of genuine encounter. "Every child Deeds direct focused attention from his parents. No matter how we slice it genuine encounter brings home a vital message that says, 'It's important to me to be with you.'" • The safety of owning feelings. "Parent* must realize that their way of seeing and feeling isn't the only way. Respect for a child's feelings is pan of rBBptxning his integrity Paregtt should allow for difference* without withdrawing approval." • The safety of empathy. "It's important for a parent to understand a child from his point of view. Human understanding brings warm comfort and safety, and it bridges the gap of alienation. • The safety of unique growing. "The option of retreat without dishonor makes any child more likely to embrace the unknown." Briggs adds, "Safe encounters translate love into terms any child can feel, regardless of age, sex, temperament, intelligence or abilities. Immersed in a safe climate, a child has DO other choice but to conclude: "I am a separate, unique individual. "I know I have value and worth because my parents enjoy, understand, and respect my person. "I don't-have to be a carbon copy to matter to the important people around me. "I am cherished even when my behavior has to be limited." These, Briggs feels, are the essential statement* of high self- esteem. The boot., published by Doubkdty, cc*t» I2.9& in paperback. — Sherry '

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