Verbal abuse is a form of psychological violence. If you suspect that you're a victim of abuse, questions to ask include: Have my parents ever seriously hurt me, or threatened me with violence? Am I afraid of what my parents might do to me if I disobey them? Do my parents supply my basic needs, like food, clothing and shelter? And, do my parents criticise me as a person, rather than criticise the things I do? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions -- particularly the first two -- seek help from a teacher, mentor, pastor or some other trusted adult in your life.
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Abuse Vs. Discipline
True verbal abuse should be distinguished from ordinary parental discipline. Parental discipline is about correcting your inappropriate behaviour; abuse is about demeaning you as a person. If your parent tells you that you can't go out with your friends until you clean your room, that's discipline. If he calls you a "lazy pig," tells you you'll never amount to anything or threatens to break your arm if you disobey, it should be considered abuse.
The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services advises that "use of corporal punishment is not considered abuse when it is reasonable and moderate and is inflicted by a parent or guardian for the purposes of restraining or correcting the child." However, the department adds that parental emotional abuse should be considered if the parent "constantly blames, belittes, or berates the child; is unconcerned about the child and refuses to consider offers of help for the child's problems; or overtly rejects the child." (ref 6)
Silence is considered emotional abuse if your parent consistently ignores you, if she rarely speaks to you or pays you no attention. It is considered neglect if your parent fails to give you medicine or take you to the doctor when you're sick, if she makes no attempt to send you to school, or if she withholds food, clothing or shelter, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Words can be weapons. Words such as "stupid" "fat" "ugly" or "worthless" cut like knives, and responsible parents don't use them against their children. If the intent of your parent's words is not to correct your behaviour, but to make you feel small, weak or worthless, it should be considered abuse. Think about what your parent said. Was what he said about your behaviour -- or about you?
All parents who don't neglect their children discipline them at one time or another. Sometimes they fly off the handle, because they're human. But there's a difference between getting upset and flying into a dangerous rage. If your parent gets red-faced, shouts, throws things, threatens to do more than restrict your privileges or switch you -- or if you're genuinely afraid when your parent gets angry -- reach out to an adult for help.
Your parents should never hurt you. If either of your parents threatens to seriously hurt you -- for any reason -- or if one has done so already, this is generally a sign of abuse. Reach out to a youth pastor at your church, a school counsellor, or call someone you trust for help. You shouldn't have to be afraid inside your own home. If you are, there are people out there who will help you find a safer place to live.
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- Med Terms: Abuse, Verbal
- Prevent Child Abuse: Fact Sheet: Emotional Child Abuse
- Psychiatry Online: Parents' Verbal Abuse Leaves Long-Term Legacy
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Child Welfare Information Gateway: What Is Child Abuse and Neglect?
- Child Abuse & Neglect: Verbal Aggression By Parents and Psychosocial Problems of Children: Yvonne M. Vissing and Murray A. Straus
- Washington State Department of Social and Health Services: Protecting the Abused and Neglected Child