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Don't Shout at the Kids

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by anthony, Oct 19, 2006.

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  1. anthony

    anthony Silently Watching Founder

    Can verbal abuse to a child can be as damaging in later life as some forms of sexual abuse? Apparently so. The signs of serious criticism and shouting can even show up as long-term changes in the brain, according to a study presented here.

    Martin Teicher of Harvard Medical School says he was motivated to study verbal abuse after treating a patient with severe trauma symptoms. The patient said felt that she should not have been so scarred by her childhood, since she had “only been shouted at”.

    The patient stuck in Teicher’s mind. When he saw four more people with similarly severe symptoms with a history of only severe verbal abuse he decided to look carefully at the problem.

    He published an initial study this June, confirming that people who had been verbally abused as children show the same levels of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as those who suffered other forms of abuse, such as witnessing domestic violence or being sexually abused by someone from outside their family (M. H. Teicher et al. Am. J. Psychiatry 163, 993-1000; 2006). That’s a problem, says Teicher, since people don’t normally take this sort of abuse so seriously. “We don’t look at what people say to their kids,” he notes.

    By comparing the severity of the trauma patients’ symptoms with their childhood memories, Tiecher’s team also learnt that the frequency of the abuse was much less important than the degree to which parents criticized their child.

    In a follow up study, presented on 17 October at the annual meeting of Society for Neuroscience, held in Atlanta, Georgia, the Harvard team show that verbal abuse appears to influence the development of areas of the brain that process sounds and language.

    They looked 17 young people who reported having being verbally abused as children, and used magnetic resonance imaging to compare their brains to those of controls. Two auditory areas of the brain – the superior temporal and frontal gyri – were around 10% smaller in subjects who had been abused. Behavioural studies on the same patients revealed corresponding verbal memory problems.

    Teicher says the results mirror those seen in people who have been sexually abused, where victims suffer defects to visual areas. That work has revealed that the abuse generates more severe problems if it takes place before puberty, and Teicher now wants to see if a similar sensitive period exists for verbal abuse.

    But the major question, he adds, is whether the damage can be reversed. Teicher doubts whether the anatomical deficits can be turned round. But he wants to assess whether different types of therapy, such as that used to treat PTSD patients, can alleviate some of the trauma symptoms associated with verbal abuse.

    Source: Natures Blog
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