I try to be open and transparent about the things I've gone through as a child, not to glorify or draw attention to myself, but to raise awareness that if you've gone through abuse that you are not alone. While we talk about the many warning signs of abuse, I believe that there was no way that my own parents were able to see any of the warning signs listed below. In the end, what opened up our relationship to discussing these very serious matters was my knowledge that they cared, they were listening, and that they were trying to understand where I was coming from.
Boiling it all down, it comes down to intentional communication. Not just good listening, but intentional communication that says, not only am I listening, but I am engaged in what's being said. You can never get to the conversation "I love him, but I wish he'd stop trying to have sex" conversation without being willing to watch the silly cat videos and to laugh at a cringy TIkTok video their teacher posted. AN issue we discuss in our blog: Getting your teen to talk.
This is a very serious topic to explore with others and it's easy to fall into one of two camps on the subject:
We don't believe the person reporting the abuse
We JUMP IN full force and overreact
Of the two, it may be better to over-react than to simply do nothing. That being said, our overreacting will often not produce the desired effect. It will usually cause the person to feel like they have made a mistake in confiding in us and they will often retreat from us or from opening up in the future. So our best advice before acting/reacting: PRAY, PRAY, PRAY. Then contact someone who can help your student navigate the situation.
First things first: "What is abuse?"
Federal law defines child abuse and neglect as “any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation (including sexual abuse), or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.” As people created in the image of a loving Father, our hearts are broken by these acts. It is imperative that we, God’s children, are willing and able to intercede on behalf those who are the most vulnerable among us.
Children have open hearts and are ready to receive truth and love from those who care for them. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:3) The fact that children have open hearts also means they are vulnerable to those who would hurt or abuse them. we will look at how we can protect children and youth in two ways. First, by understanding abuse and neglect and learning how to respond it. Second, by creating environments in homes and in our churches that facilitate the love and nurturing that reflects the heart of God.
There are many reasons why parents fail to nurture their offspring in truth and love. Child neglect often occurs as a result of poverty, mental illness, or addictions that impair parents’ ability to respond to a child’s needs. The causes of child abuse are more complex. There are issues like:
childhood experiences (our own)
mental or physical health problems
Focus on the Family mentions: while it is essential to recognize that these factors can lead to abuse, we should never assume that an abused person will become an abuser. This is especially true with parents who experienced childhood abuse themselves. Some organizations have labeled those who experience childhood abuse as “potential abusers,” which revictimizes the childhood victim.
How Do I Spot Potential Abuse
We tend to recognize in others what we ourselves often struggle with or have gone through. That being said, if you have gone through abuse, it's uncanny how reliably you may be able to predict or to see abuse in others. That being said, never assume. A student who is jumpy at loud noises, doesn't mean they are being hit at home. However, a student who startles easily and is constantly aloof and isolated is more likely to fit the profile of a student who has experienced abuse or childhood trauma. Don't look for just a singular sign, but often when a couple or more of these signs are prevalent, it can warrant a closer look.
Potential Warning Signs of the Differing Types of Abuse
Consider the possibility of emotional abuse when the child:
Shows extremes in behavior, such as overly compliant or demanding behavior, extreme passivity, or aggression
Is either inappropriately adult (parenting other children, for example) or inappropriately infantile (frequently rocking or head-banging, for example)
Is delayed in physical/emotional development
Has attempted suicide
Reports a lack of attachment to the parent
Consider the possibility of emotional maltreatment when the parent or other adult caregiver:
Constantly blames, belittles, or berates the child
Is unconcerned about the child and refuses to consider offers of help for the child’s problems
Overtly rejects the child
In addition to being able to spot these things in kids and parents is our willingness to not contribute to these things ourselves. How we treat our kids, is ALWAYS our responsibility. It is always incumbent on us to do the right thing no matter what, WE are the adults. Believe it or not we have the ability to set a positive precedence for generations to come, or to start negative coping cycles and dysfunction.
Consider the possibility of sexual abuse when the child:
Has difficulty walking or sitting
Suddenly refuses to change for gym or to participate in physical activities
Reports nightmares or bedwetting
Experiences a sudden change in appetite
Demonstrates bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior
Runs away Reports sexual abuse by a parent or another adult caregiver
Consider the possibility of sexual abuse when the parent or other adult caregiver:
Is unduly protective of the child or severely limits the child’s contact with other children, especially of the opposite sex
Is secretive and isolated
Is jealous or controlling with family members
As teens enter into relationships, remember they're not experts and have to learn things the hard way, just like us. We also set the example by what we do in our own relationships and marriages. They will pick up on the healthy ways we interact with others as easily as they will perceive how to manipulate to get what they want if we're not careful. In the end, just as is the case with parents, the students ultimately make their own decisions on how they will handle romantic relationships and friendships. Here are a few things to watch out for if you suspect they may be in an abusive relationship.
Isolation – no longer spending time with a usual circle of friends.
Constantly checking a mobile phone, and getting upset when asked to turn it off.
Physical signs of injury, such as unexplained scratches or bruises.
*Please note: displaying these behaviors does not automatically mean a young person is in an abusive relationship. Also here is an extensive article on spotting abusive relationships.
BELIEVE. As difficult as it may be, trust what the child has told you. Many people are still reluctant to believe a child when they reveal abuse. One reason is that the behavior of some children who are abused, which is a trauma that affects them emotionally and physically, can give adults the impression that their word can’t be trusted.
Another reason can be when the person knows the parents or suspected abuser and finds it hard to believe the person is capable of such an act. While children sometimes, but rarely, lie about abuse, it is absolutely essential that we believe them — even if we have doubts. We need to leave the decision on truthfulness to professionals who are trained to make that type of discernment.
AFFIRM. Clearly express your concern for the youth or child. They need to know that you care and will be with there for them (if that is possible). Don't ever promise that you will be able to get them out of the situation. There are no guarantees that reporting the abuse to CPS will make any difference. The only promises you can give is that you will be their support and will tell someone who can provide help.
TELL. Report the abuse to the appropriate authority. Often, our youth volunteers are even intimidated by the process of reporting. One of the things that we've done is to have them talk about the issue with us and we could make the best possible report together.
Consider these reminders from Focus on the Family:
Be Sure You Don’t
Tell them you always hated their abuser.
Tell them “I told you so.”
Ask them how they could let the abuse happen.
Begin with a mindset of doubt that closes them off to you.
Accuse or blame them.
Tell them what their next steps, emotions or long-term decisions should be.
Tell them to leave the abuser immediately.
Tell them you plan to call the cops.
Tell them you’re going to confront the abuser.
On the other hand here are some things you CAN DO:
Validate their openness and encourage them to continue to share the whole truth.
Tell them you’re there to help them.
Let them know that what’s happening or has happened isn’t OK.
Pray for them.
Tell them you love them.
Seek out help immediately, especially if the victim is a child. Check out the resources listed below for more information.
Where to Report
Other Articles of Interest
-Focus on the Family - Helping Someone in an Abusive Relationship
-Focus on the Family - Other Abuse Helps
Not all articles linked reflect the viewpoints or beliefs expressed by Spring Hills and its employees but are included for informative purposes.