By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
Child abuse wounds may take decades to surface or heal, but the end of the story was crystal clear when a North Carolina teacher recently struck two students with a wrapped-up extension cord in early March, resigned from her job, and Lenoir City Police charged her with simple assault.
The incident was captured on video at South Lenoir High School located in Deep Run, N.C. about a month before the nation observes Child Abuse Prevention Month throughout the month of April.
Child abuse is still a ubiquitous but controversial issue. For example, a 2020 report showed nearly half of all adults, who are raising children 18 years or younger, said that they disapprove of it. But these same parents said they also whip and beat their own children.
This means when the North Carolina teacher, 71-year-old Patricia Graham recently aimed a rolled-up extension cord at a student who holds out his left arm in a defensive posture on the video and Graham tells the student, “Now sit down,” she was shining a light on a recent report from Child Trends11 which showed that nearly 76 percent of men and 65 percent of women agree that it is sometimes necessary to give a child a good hard spanking.
The point is most of the respondents said they actually believe in administering physical punishment. But experts say child abuse inflicts hidden but long-term psychic wounds and side effects. For example, child abuse survivors may obsessively relive trauma related to the abuse and avoid people, places, and events that are associated with their abuse long into adulthood.
Child abuse survivors may also needlessly feel fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame; startle easily, and exhibit hypervigilance, irritability, or abrupt mood swings long after they grow up and leave home. Child abuse survivors may experience depression, suicidal behavior, substance use, and anti-social behaviors well into adulthood, which can affect their ability to succeed or nurture important relationships.
But child abuse does not always involve belts, extension cords, and other type of physical punishment. Sometimes it involves ongoing emotional abuse.
A case in point is the unambiguous impact that ongoing emotional abuse had on Actor Will Smith, who is now 54. Remember how Smith famously walked on stage and slapped comedian Chris Rock across the face at the 2022 Oscars on March 22, 2022?
“My father was abusive with my mother,” Smith explained later in multiple interviews.
Smith said in a November 2021 interview on Today, “I was probably 9, and I watched my father beat up my mother. And I was too scared to do anything. And just on my young mind, it became imprinted.”
Smith asked, “What kind of kid stands there and lets somebody hit their mother and they don’t do anything, you know? And that became really the core trauma of my childhood that my personality and my persona became to form around.”
Later Smith told CNN, “My father was violent, but he was also at every game, play, and recital. He was an alcoholic, but he was sober at every premiere of every one of my movies. He added, “The same intense perfectionism that terrorized his family put food on the table every night of my life.” Smith’s father is Willard Carroll Smith Sr., a U.S. Air Force veteran and an independent businessman who installed refrigeration in supermarkets.
This means child abuse’s (emotional) outcome was not evident when Smith saw his father “punch (his) mother in the side of the head so hard that she collapsed. I saw her spit blood,” he wrote in “Will,” his memoir. “That moment in that bedroom, probably more than any other moment in my life, has defined who I am.”
The reality is many survivors of child abuse grow up to be average, hardworking Americans who were slapped, whipped, beaten or neglected as kids.
The proof is in a recent study titled “Physical Punishment: Attitudes, Behaviors, and Norms Associated with Its Use Across the U.S.” Forty-three percent of the 3,049 respondents in this study said they routinely spank, slap, pop, whoop, or smack their kids. And more than 40 percent said they believe in the “use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury.”
In plain terms this means about 50 percent of these respondents believe that it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good hard spanking. Thirty five percent went on to say that they believe spanking is necessary to instill proper moral and social conduct. Forty two percent believe spanking is sometimes the best way to get a child to listen. Fifty nine percent believe it is a parent’s right to spank their child if they think it is necessary. Only 14 percent said they believe it is acceptable to discipline a child with an object such as a belt, switch, electrical cord, or hairbrush.
While experts define child abuse as the “intentional use of physical force against a child that results in, or has the potential to result in, physical injury,” most states divide child abuse into four categories: physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. Additionally, many states identify abandonment, parental substance use, and human trafficking as abuse or neglect.
Today, (emotional) child abuse has escalated to the point that some parents may not beat a child with a belt or an extension cord; but they will grab a gun, shoot a spouse in front of a child, and record the murder live on social media.
One of the most recent publicized jaw-dropping (emotional) child abuse case happened in Florida. Deputies found a Black toddler’s corpse inside the mouth of an alligator shortly after his father, Thomas Mosley, reportedly killed his mother, Pashun Jeffery, age 20, in late March 2023. The father checked himself into a hospital and had cuts on his arms and hands, police said. He did not speak to detectives and requested a lawyer, according to the local police chief. Taylen Mosley is the name of the 2-year-old toddler. Police said that Jeffery had been stabbed multiple times. They later found her son’s corpse in an alligator’s mouth near Dell Holmes Park, which is close to Lake Maggiore, almost 10 miles from his mother’s apartment.
This is the point. Child abuse may stretch back generations. Still, all types of child abuse are a largely self-inflicted injury because adults can easily stop beating, cursing their children or killing a spouse in front of a child. Adults can always retreat to a safe space and cool off. Adults can refuse to slap or beat a child on the hand, arm or legs–and instead reason with a child or revoke privileges. More important, adults can refuse to feel that it is OK to inflict physical or emotional pain on a child.