How to be a good parentAs a child and adolescent psychiatrist, people often consult me about their children. Recently, a professor asked me in the hospital cafeteria what he should do because his son did not go to his after-school class. His son lied and skipped the math class three times, so the father had scolded and spanked him. But the boy still doesn’t want to go to the class, and the father continues to insist he go.
The father said he asked his son why he didn’t want to go, but the boy did not answer, probably thinking his reasons wouldn’t persuade his father. I asked if the boy was ever asked if he liked the class, and he said that his wife researched to find the best class. “The parents get to choose; why should we ask the kid?” he said.
There are four types of child abuse: negligence, physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse.
Negligence is not providing what parents or guardians should for children, and abuse is treating them with cruelty or violence. It is the duty of the parent and guardian to provide food, clothing and shelter, and offer physical and mental motivation. Failure to do so is negligence. Physical abuse is using physical force on children with or without an object. Emotional abuse is incurring emotional damage on children, and sexual abuse is sexual molestation of children.
Recently, I was asked to lecture on emotional abuse at a children’s protection agency. While social awareness on child abuse is increasing, even the agencies have trouble defining and determining emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse is often in a form of language that hurts children’s psychology. “Why were you born?” “You are such a bad kid. I will kill myself.” “I cannot live like this. We are getting a divorce.” “What are you going to be when you grow up? You are such a loser!” These kinds of remarks are poisonous to children. As children grow up, these vicious comments damage and traumatize the young mind. Last year, a father in a television drama said, “Cut her hair off and don’t feed her. Don’t let her take a step out of the house.” The father is an emotional abuser.
Korea has only ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as an international law and declared that the state and society will protect the child when the guardian fails to fulfill the role. In the television drama, the father dearly loves the daughter and is concerned for her future. The story took place before 1991, when there was little awareness on children’s rights.But now, “not allowing a child to take a call” and “cutting her hair” against her will are clear examples of emotional abuse. Domestic violence and threat to the safety of a parent in front of children are also serious emotional abuses. When children get accustomed to negative remarks, will they continue negative language and actions when they grow up?
Researches show otherwise. Those who were distressed in childhood have low self-esteem, tend to be depressed and have a higher risk of suicide. When a child feels that they are not loved, they have difficulty controlling emotions and getting along with peers. Abused children also do not establish healthy habits, and they are 2.5 times more likely to suffer coronary conditions due to weak immune and endocrine systems compared to those who grew up loved and respected. Emotional abuse results in more serious damage than sexual and physical abuse. In the United States, the top reason for parents beating children was “bad grades.” In Korea, emotional abuse due to high educational expectations is very serious.
Parents need to protect children from diseases and danger, provide necessities and stimulation for growth, and allow the children to participate in the decision-making process. While most agree with protecting and providing, many grown-ups would be skeptical of asking opinions of their children and letting them take part in decision-making. Parents should not allow children to do all they want, but listen to their opinions and make the best decisions for their children.
Now, instead of choosing the class that the parents think is best for the child, they should ask the child if he would like to attend the after-school class and if there is anything bothering him during the class.
Many adults grew up in times when children’s rights were not widely understood, but their childhood should not be the standard.
Rather than condemning the parents who killed and buried children as we have seen in the news, we need to evaluate how we are treating our own children. Now, we need to learn how to be good parents.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 31, Page 29
*The author is a professor of psychiatry at Kyungpook National University Hospital.