In a recent systematic review published in the October 2023 edition of Child Abuse & Neglect: The International Journal, researchers emphasize the need to recognize childhood verbal abuse as a distinct form of maltreatment.
The study, led by Shanta Dube, PhD, the director of the master of public health program at Wingate University, highlights the immediate and long-term impacts of verbal abuse by adults on children.
The analysis of 149 quantitative and 17 qualitative studies reveals that parents are the primary perpetrators of childhood verbal abuse (76.5%), followed by other adult caregivers (2.4%) and teachers (12.71%). The consequences of verbal abuse are comparable to those of physical or sexual abuse, with implications for mental and physical health lasting into adulthood.
The study advocates for a shift in perspective, urging the classification of childhood verbal abuse as a distinct subtype, separate from emotional abuse. Currently, verbal abuse is often grouped under emotional abuse, leading to a lack of standardized terminology and varied definitions across studies.
Commonly documented forms of verbal abuse include shouting and screaming, with the study emphasizing that volume alone should not define abuse; intent, delivery, and immediate effects on children are also crucial considerations. Verbal abuse is currently categorized under emotional abuse within the broader classification of child maltreatment, as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The research reveals the prevalence of verbal abuse in some cultures, where it may be deemed acceptable as a disciplinary measure. The authors argue for increased awareness and interventions focused on the actions of adult perpetrators to break intergenerational cycles of verbal abuse.
To address the aftermath of childhood verbal abuse, the study recommends psychotherapy, with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) identified as an evidence-based approach. By recognizing childhood verbal abuse as a specific concern, researchers believe targeted prevention measures can be implemented to address the lasting impact of this often overlooked form of maltreatment.
The study received funding from Words Matter, a charity dedicated to improving children’s mental and physical health by combating the verbal abuse of children by adults.