MONDAY, July 30 (HealthDay News) -- Constantly belittling, threatening or ignoring children can be as damaging to their mental health as physical or sexual abuse, according to a new report from a pediatricians' group.
But, with no bruises to spot, pediatricians, teachers and family members may have trouble recognizing these and other forms of psychological abuse. Not only are there no obvious physical scars, there is no universally agreed-upon definition of what constitutes psychological maltreatment of children, and a fine line can exist between not-so-great parenting and outright abuse, experts say.
"The main message for child health clinicians and people working with children is that psychological maltreatment is just as harmful as other types of maltreatment," said report co-author Dr. Harriet MacMillan, a professor in the departments of psychiatry, behavioral neurosciences and pediatrics at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.
"We know that exposure to other types of maltreatment like physical and sexual abuse can be associated with a broad range of types of impairment in physical and mental health, and cognitive and social development," she said. "Similarly, we see these types of impairments associated with psychological maltreatment."
The American Academy of Pediatrics' report is published online July 30 and in the August print issue of Pediatrics.
Estimating the prevalence of the problem is difficult, in part because of the lack of a universally accepted definition of psychological abuse, MacMillan said. Studies in Britain and the United States estimate that 8 percent to 9 percent of women and 4 percent of men report severe psychological abuse during childhood.
Psychological maltreatment of children can take many forms. It can include chronically belittling, humiliating or ridiculing a child for showing normal emotions
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