Child Physical Abuse and Neglect Among Adolescents

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 9
Words: 2303
Reading time:
9 min
Study level: College


Child mistreatment which includes emotional, sexual, physical abuse, and neglect is a major social problem not only in the United States, but also in the entire world. Child neglect is one of the most ignored forms of abuse, because, unlike the other forms of maltreatments, it is not easily noticeable. As a result, in rare instances do mental health professionals receive reports of related cases. Generally, there are more female victims of early childhood abuse compared to males who are still dealing with trauma in adulthood. Consequently, it is important to understand the roots of physical abuse and neglect among young adults, and how the victims respond to these mistreatments. The findings of the study will help in identifying and substantiating the role of counselors in helping abused adolescents.

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Child neglect among adolescents is the source of parent-child conflicts, running away, poor peer relationships, and juvenile-related crimes. The number of child neglect cases has risen steadily over the past two decades leading to a sudden shift of focus to this type of mistreatment (Annerbäck et al., 2018). However, this abrupt change has affected the attention and resources accorded to sexual and physical abuse. The primary cause of this complexity is the fact that the impacts of physical mistreatment are physical and emotional, and therefore easily identifiable. Contrarily, the adverse effects of child neglect are generally internal and only demonstrated in the victims’ relationships. Moreover, professionals pay less attention to this type of maltreatment because it does not create headlines as sexual or physical abuse. Although evident, child neglect is often ignored because it is considered by most people to have minimal effects on the victim’s wellbeing.

Consequently, the number of studies conducted on child and sexual abuse is larger than those on child neglect. Physical abuse in children is defined as a non-accidental injury caused on a young one by a guardian, who can either be a parent or any other relative. Child molestation, on the other hand, is a subset of child abuse whereby an adult or older child uses a young one as an object of sexual pleasure (Annerbäck et al., 2018). Puberty is a sensitive period in life because it is confusing for children and without satisfactory parent-child relationships due to neglect and abuse, the young ones struggle to have meaningful interactions even when they are old. Counselors and other mental health professionals have the task of understanding all that pertains to child abuse and neglect to help female adolescents in an ever-evolving world.

Review of Relevant Literature

Child neglect accounts for about two-thirds of child abuse reports but is not given the attention it deserves with regards to research. Females are more emotionally demanding and expressive compared to males and this begins from a very tender age. The attachment between a child and a caregiver begins during infancy with the foundations being genetic, biological, social, and emotional elements. As a result, the attachment between a parent and a child in this case a daughter acts as the basis for future relationships. According to Dale (2019), whenever a child is neglected, there are higher chances that the nature of the relationship will shift from a healthy one to an insecure attachment. The difference between infancy and adolescence is that in former relationships, children are entirely dependent on their caregivers while in the latter, they can do several things on their own. Consequently, any cases of child neglect and abuse in between infancy and adolescence shape a young girl’s future relationships with her peers and guardians (Dale, 2019). It is, therefore, imperative to study previous literature that have touched on the connection between child neglect and physical abuse to understand how adolescent girls are affected by the same.

The Relationship between Child Neglect and Physical Abuse

It is important to clearly state definitions as foundations of the analysis of the concepts being reviewed. According to Erozkan (2016), child neglect is a guardian’s or parent’s laxity in meeting the basic needs of the young one and as a result, risking their lives. This definition focuses on the act of ignoring one’s responsibility to meet family needs and associating it with neglect. On the other hand, Mathews et al. (2020) in their study on improving child abuse and neglect measures defines physical child abuse as any non-accidental injury caused by intentionally harming the young one either by burning, beating, or pinching them. The research found out that there is a clear connection between the avoidant attachment style and physical child abuse. This attachment style is the source of dysfunctional relationships from late adolescence and is characterized by negative and disconnected interactions. Consequently, Erozkan (2016) suggested that the best intervention for building such relationships is focusing on the connection aspect and to work on it slowly.

According to Waechter et al. (2019) in their study about child maltreatment interventions, it is important to prioritize solutions that are relationship-based and those that aim to understand the adolescent’s childhood challenges. The authors further state that children who have been neglected and physically abused have a tendency to develop self-image and hatred toward others. It is therefore important to combine these two elements in developing an effective intervention for the affected young one. Physical abuse or neglect, both have detrimental impacts that need equal attention. However, it is necessary to note that the individual pieces of evidence vary and therefore it might take time to see results, particularly when helping child neglect victims.

Since child neglect is directly related to the omission of care by parents, all studies on child abuse should consider the child neglect population. According to Waechter et al. (2019), neglected infants and adolescents have more complicated characteristics compared to those who have been abused sexually and physically. They are delicate because it is difficult to note emotional injuries and therefore, patience should be exercised when attending to them. The relationship between the two maltreatments is that although both of them are forms of child abuse, the effects of neglect are solely internal. Therefore, establishing the connection makes it easy for mental health professionals to distinguish one from the other. Nonetheless, Annerbäck et al. (2018) note that there are several cases where young ones particularly females in the adolescent stage become victims of a combination of the two categories child mistreatments. In most instances, physically and sexually abused young girls feel alone and neglected.

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Child Physical Abuse and Relationships

Non-accidental physical injuries caused by caregivers lead to partner perpetration, negative relationships, adjustment issues, and violence victimization. Dale (2019) states that children who have been exposed to physical abuse become unpredictable, increasingly violent, and less satisfactory in adult associations. This element of the research helps in illustrating the negative and long-term impacts of physical abuse in the form of punishment have on relationships of every nature, be it at work, with peers, or with family members. According to Douglas (2016), the first response to physical abuse is aggression and uncontrolled anger which hinders the affected individual from developing fulfilling relationships. As a result, it is a challenge for them to practice openness and trust others because they never experienced healthy attachments with their parents as infants. It is, therefore, necessary to identify and understand the long-term effects of child physical abuse to develop interventions for young victims.

Similarly, since the nature of childhood relationships determines the success of future interactions, maltreatments cause interpersonal challenges such as trust issues and attachment-related insecurities. Consequently, Adams et al. (2018) indicate that parents who were once sexually abused at a tender age find it hard to form meaningful connections with their children and also authentic relationships with others. It is impossible to forget the bad experiences one had when they were children regardless of how young they were. Therefore, the internal damages caused by physical mistreatments similar to those of neglect make the victims feel inadequate barring them from accepting genuine love. This happens because they have grown believing that they are unworthy of such affection. Intervening the impacts of child abuse in adulthood has minimal chances of success and therefore it is necessary to do so at an early age.

Child Abuse and Neglect in Adolescence Relationships

The fundamentals of child abuse intervention are based on two primary factors. First, adolescence is a period of transition characterized by opportunities and challenges which shape a young one’s development with regards to identity and perspectives on relationships (Rode et al., 2019). Therefore, when helping victims of child abuse in adolescence, it is necessary to exercise caution because they are starting to have formed opinions on various aspects of life. Secondly, based on relational theory, a relationship is a cell within which the growth and development of an individual occur. This implies that the style of attachment an adolescent has adopted acts as a blueprint to all subsequent relationships.

Consequently, discourage the use of intervention techniques such as family system therapy that undermine the relational effects of child neglect and abuse is highly discouraged. Such techniques fail to consider the contributing factors of the maltreatments. According to Rode et al. (2019), growth and development in adolescence are not all about interpersonal relationships but also includes other aspects such as academics and spirituality. All interventions should focus on parent-child and peer-peer relationships since they are the basis of an adolescent’s behavioral and emotional stability.

Signs and Symptoms of Child Abuse and Neglect

The signs and symptoms of child maltreatment can be divided into physical, emotional and behavioral, and academic signs. Physical indications are considered the most visible way of noticing physical and sexual child abuse since there will be injuries. Examples of the signs include infected sores, dirty bodies and clothes, dental cavities, or chronic infestation. Douglas (2016), further points out that whereas most physical signs are external there can be severe cases of internal injuries such as bruised organs. It is therefore important to take a victim of child abuse medical tests in an equipped healthcare facility. Douglas (2016) also suggests that it is always necessary to converse with the child to determine if their explanation matches the severity of existing injuries.

Emotional and behavioral signs are equally important in isolating child abuse cases and helping the victims. According to Christ et al., (2017), these indicators are crucial in detecting cases of children whose injuries are hidden or covered by clothes. Moreover, child neglect is also an abuse which cannot be identified physically, and therefore such signs are vital in attending to young ones who have been neglected. Christ et al. (2017) also state that even though physical symptoms can heal with time, it takes a long time for victims to recover from the internal effects of mistreatments. Examples of emotional and behavioral signs and symptoms of abuse include trust issues, fear, and isolation, which further result in depression, low self-esteem, and unstable relationships. Like physical signs, mental professionals can realize abnormal behavioral and emotional patterns such as rebellion, avoidance of certain situations or people, and social withdrawal that point towards abuse back at home.

Finally, academic signs are a clearer way of identifying child abuse and neglect, considering most adolescence if not all are in schools. According to Babakhanlou and Beattie (2019), there is a direct link between poor educational performance and child abuse. In their study on the relationship between maltreatment and academics, the researchers found out that a large number of young adults who are victims of either physical or sexual abuse dropped out of school compared to those who never encountered child abuse. Moreover, a study conducted by Adams et al. (2018), on the relationship between behavioral issues at school and childhood maltreatment suggested that adolescents who were physically abused at a young age had lower Grade Point Averages (GPAs). Additionally, the same students had difficulties in completing their assignments. Adams et al. (2018) also state that survivors of child molestation get involved in problematic situations such as lying and getting angry with students and teachers. When intervening, it is necessary to develop strategies that consider the connection between physical and emotional signs and the role they play in creating academic signs.

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Implications for Counselors

The research on child physical abuse and neglect will improve counselors’ effectiveness in administering their services to adolescent girls in a variety of ways. First, the emphasis on child neglect as part of abuse will help counselors identify related victims and help them accordingly. Emotional scars last longer than physical ones and, ironically, it is quite difficult to notice the former. Consequently, the components of the research will help mental health professionals in the development of interventions that will meet the needs of neglected and abused children. Secondly, a relational theory has been applied in the study to demonstrate the connection between physical child abuse, child neglect, and adulthood relationships. Psychologists, particularly those working in schools, have a role in identifying child abuse cases and making the necessary referrals. Since the study points out that the transitional period between adolescence and adulthood is crucial in identifying and rectifying childhood attachment issues, it helps counselors to easily notice affected children and help them in good time.


There is a need to understand the concept of childhood attachment if better intervention practices are to be developed to help teens, particularly females with physical abuse and child neglect experiences are to be helped. Child neglect requires the same attention as physical and sexual abuse because its impacts on the victims are equally detrimental. This is because the relational nature between these two forms of maltreatments hinders a teenager’s healthy social growth and development. Mental health professionals and psychologists pay little attention to child physical abuse and neglect until the victims are older. However, with the findings of the research, counselors are can notice suffering adolescents early enough and intervene with appropriate treatment approaches.


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Annerbäck, E., Svedin, C., & Dahlström, Ö. (2018). Child physical abuse: factors influencing the associations between self-reported exposure and self-reported health problems: A cross-sectional study. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 12(1). Web.

Babakhanlou, R., & Beattie, T. (2019). Child abuse. InnovAiT: Education and Inspiration for General Practice, 12(4), 180-187. Web.

Christ, S., Kwak, Y., & Lu, T. (2017). The joint impact of parental psychological neglect and peer isolation on adolescents’ depression. Child Abuse & Neglect, 69, 151-162. Web.

Dale, C. (2019). Assessing the relational nature of child physical abuse and neglect among 12-year-old girls. Journal of Social, Behavioral, and Health Sciences, 13(1), 377-381. Web.

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Rode, D., Rode, M., Marganski, A., & Januszek, M. (2019). The Impact of physical abuse & exposure to parental IPV on young adolescents in Poland: A clinical assessment and comparison of psychological outcomes. Journal of Family Violence, 34(5), 435-447. Web.

Waechter, R., Kumanayaka, D., Angus-Yamada, C., Wekerle, C., & Smith, S. (2019). Maltreatment history, trauma symptoms and research reactivity among adolescents in child protection services. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 13(1), 78-99. Web.