Though the effects of terrorizing, belittling or neglecting a child are more difficult to trace — being subsequent to the nature of the relationship between caregiver and child, rather than one specific event — they can be every bit as traumatic as those of other abuse, three pediatricians wrote this week in the journal Pediatrics.
“We are talking about extremes and the likelihood of harm, or risk of harm, resulting from the kinds of behavior that make a child feel worthless, unloved or unwanted,” Harriet MacMillan, one of the three pediatrician authors, told reporters.
The survey indicated that 8 to 9 percent of women and 4 percent of men reported severe psychological abuse in childhood.
"A number of U.S. surveys have also found that more adults claim they faced psychological maltreatment as kids than claim they experienced any other form of abuse," TIME reported. "This suggests that psychological maltreatment may be the most common form of abuse inflicted on kids."
The authors of the study urged pediatricians to look for signs of emotional maltreatment that can signal sexual or physical abuse. Sometimes, the authors found, children exposed to psychological abuse may "require a level of protection that necessitates removal from the parental home."
Encouraging children to engage in illegal activities, such as using illicit drugs, for example, can fall under the category of "corrupting a child," which can also be defined as psychological abuse, CNN said.
Experts hope to help organize effective treatment and prevention programs that spread awareness among child caregivers about the dangers and long-term effects of psychological abuse, the Huffington Post reported.
"Many are things that parents may, very appropriately, do in isolated circumstances," said Roberta Hibbard, director of child protection programs at Indiana University's School of Medicine and one of the report's authors.
"For example, it's often appropriate to send children to their room and put them in time-out," she said. "But at what point does three minutes become five minutes, and five minutes becomes 10 hours?"
"A lot of attention is paid to sexual and physical abuse," said Alec Miller, chief of child and adolescent psychology at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York, who was not involved with the new report. "This is another form of child maltreatment that is more insidious, in some instances, and it doesn't get the treatment attention that is due."
Rachel Lowry is a reporter intern for the Deseret News.