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Child Abuse and the Impact on Adolescent Development
Self-Reported Abuse History and Adolescent Problem Behaviors. I. Antisocial and Suicidal Behaviors
The purpose of this study was to examine physical abuse, sexual abuse and the effects on adolescent behavior. The study was conducted through a questionnaire distributed to 4,790 students in grades 8, 10,and 12 in Washington State public schools. The questionnaire addressed a variety of student health risk behaviors. The questionnaire asked about abuse histories, antisocial behavior, and suicidal ideation and behavior.
The answers to the questionnaire were designed to indicate different levels of abuse, antisocial behavior and suicidal ideation. The results of abuse history consisted of 11.4% reported physical and emotional abuse, 5.9% reported being molested and 8.8% reported being abused and molested. Abuse histories differed between males and females. The female gender reported higher percentages of abuse sexually and combined abuse and the males reported higher percentages of physical and emotional abuse. Abuse history was associated with antisocial behavior and associations were stronger for combined abuse or molestation alone. Males were also more likely to engage in antisocial behavior. Suicidal behavior is associated with abuse history and shows stronger associations for combined abuse or molestation alone. Females were 1.5 times more likely to report non-injurious suicide attempts. The risk of having a suicide plan or injurious attempt was not significantly related to gender. A combination of antisocial behavior and suicidal ideation was more likely in males and younger adolescents were more likely to report this combination. This study concluded that both mild and severe antisocial behavior is associated with abuse history and suicidal ideation and behaviors are associated with abuse history in adolescents.
The Relationship Between Sexual Abuse And Purging: Findings From Community-Wide Surveys Of Female Adolescents
The purpose of this study was to research the relationship between sexual abuse and purging. The sample consisted of 7,903 female adolescents of European and African American cultures. Self-report surveys were the means of obtaining the information needed for the study. The questionnaire consisted of 152-item inventory covering bulimic behavior, age, ethnicity, parental education, sexual abuse, physical abuse, religiosity, family support, parent-adolescent communication, and other adult support. The results of the study concluded that 2% reported purging 2 or more times a week and did not differ between European Americans and African Americans. The results of this study also concluded that there was not a significant relationship between purging and sexual abuse unless family dysfunction was reported. The study did find significant relationships between physical abuse and purging. The biggest factor for predicting bulimia was low family support and dysfunction in the family.
Childhood Abuse and Neglect: Specificity of Effects on Adolescent and Young Adult Depression and Suicidality
This study investigated the effects of childhood neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse on adolescent depression and suicidal tendencies. The sample consisted of 776 children studied from childhood to adulthood over a 17-year period of time. Official records of abuse were used to determine history of abuse. The findings of this study answered three questions concerning the risk factors of adolescent depression and suicidal behavior. The first finding indicates that being abused as a child increases 3 to 4 times the likelihood of depression and suicide in adolescents and young adults. Second this study determined that child neglect alone is not responsible for depressive disorders and suicidal behavior. This finding is also due to the reason that neglect is difficult to separate from other risk factors such as family environment and parent and child characteristics. Third this study concluded that different types of abuse have an effect on the possibility of depression and suicide in adolescents. Sexual abuse compared to all other abuses is the greatest risk factor in depressive disorders and suicide in adolescents. Physical abuse also contributes to repeated suicide attempts during adolescence and depression in adults.
Reactions and Opinions
An undertone in all three studies relates that family dysfunction and parent-child relationships are a major factor in adolescent development. This fits the theme of sexual abuse and physical abuse contributing to increases in mental disorders that occur in adolescents from abusive environments. The problem with the studies is determining if abuse caused increases in these disorders or if other factors in the environment caused increases in these disorders. This is difficult to distinguish because adolescents that come from abusive backgrounds most likely come from families with different levels of dysfunction.
The purging study addresses that the biggest indicator of bulimia was family dysfunction and low family support rather than sexual abuse as being an indicator. This study feels that the relationship between sexual abuse and purging is explained by family dysfunction. This is a good point pertaining to bulimia but not necessarily to depression and suicidal behaviors mentioned in the other studies.
These studies provide insight for adolescent counselors. It is clear from these studies that when evaluating depressed or suicidal youths to look for different types of abuse in their history. In depressed, bulimic, antisocial, or suicidal adolescents it is also important to look at familial risks such as low paternal involvement, low parent support, family conflict, parental substance abuse, maternal young age and mental illness in the family. All these factors can be utilized when diagnosing and treating adolescent clients.
Bensley, L.S., Eenwyk, J.V., Spieker, S.J., Schoder, J. (1999). Self-reported abuse history and adolescent problem behaviors. I. Antisocial and suicidal behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 24, 163-172.
Brown, J., Cohen, P., Johnson, J.G., Smailes, E.M. (1999). Childhood abuse and neglect: specificity of effects on adolescent and young adult depression and suicidality. Journal of American Academy Child Adolescent Psychiatry, 38 (12), 1490-1496.
Perkins, D.F., & Luster, T. (1999). The relationship between sexual abuse and purging: findings from community-wide surveys of female adolescents. Child Abuse and Neglect, 23 (4), 371-382.