Shellie Smitley




April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. This year’s theme is “Building a Hopeful Future Together.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 1 in 7 children have experienced child abuse or neglect in the past year in the United States. This is likely an underestimate since many cases are unreported. In 2020, 1,750 children died of abuse and neglect in America.

Even for those who survive childhood abuse or neglect, the healing process is grueling and most never fully overcome it. Adult survivors often suffer from anxiety and/or posttraumatic stress disorder. They may be depressed and possess low self- esteem. They are also more prone to experiencing violence victimization and perpetration, thereby perpetuating the familial cycle.

To me, a tragic part of child abuse is that most small children love their parents unconditionally. Also, the way they are raised is the only way of life they know. Aspects of a dysfunctional childhood get normalized, and can take years before adult survivors fully understand the ways or the extent in which they were abused or neglected. Many may not even know what a “good” parent looks like or what a child truly requires. How would they know what their children need, if their own basic human needs were never met, or they were subjected to harsh treatment instead? Also, neglect often interferes in crucial stages of development during the teenage years. Sadly, research indicates children who are raised in abusive homes are more likely to experience unintended pregnancies. When people grow up in loveless homes, they often end up “looking for love in all the wrong places.” However, the world is also a cruel place for people who grew up without the support they needed to thrive.

I argue the best way to teach parenting skills is to teach parenting skills.

People only know what they know. I certainly do not believe it would hurt this country to provide junior high school students, with not so much how to physically take care of a child, but rather teach what the function of parental support looks like. Not only would it assist in breaking familial cycles of abuse, it would promote personal growth in teenagers who may not even understand to the extent in which they are abused or neglected.

In my opinion, the breakdown of the traditional family setting, uptick in poverty and the unhealthy consumption of technology are contributing to poor parenting. Therefore, I believe there is a greater need in this country to teach what healthy relationships look like, including parent-child associations.

“Building a hopeful future together,” consists of investing in people outside our own families. Churches, individuals, schools, agencies and nonprofits must be willing to reach out, invest in and include people who lack life skills because they grew up in unsupportive and abusive environments.

Sadly, many victims of child abuse and neglect fall through the cracks and end up in prisons, morgues and on the streets. Nobody chooses their parents and for many, the world is a living Hell from the time they are born.

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