Straight Talk Advice

Child Abuse: Beating a Child into “Excellence”

Jul 23, 2013

Teen terrified by abusive parents

Dear Straight Talk: I have an incredibly bad relationship with my parents. Many tell me to call CPS (Child Protective Services), however, a friend taken from her drug-addicted mom says foster care was horrible and that I shouldn't do it. Since sixth grade, my dad has threatened to hit me multiple times and even has followed through with it. My mom has hit me causing bruises and once or twice has grabbed my neck and shoved me against a wall screaming in my face. They say I won't make it anywhere in life, they penalize me for my body size, for not getting perfect straight A's, and not pursuing THEIR dream. My younger sister (14) sees it all but has never been a victim. My older brother, who received similar treatment for not being perfect, thinks I should stick it out as I only have two more years. (He's 21, but cannot support me.) I need guidance. I'm honestly terrified living at home. — Scared Teen with Big Dreams

Katelyn 18, Azusa, Calif. Ask me a question

Don't suffer silently for “only” two more years. Talk to a counselor, church leader, or trusted authority figure ASAP. If you do call CPS, they won't automatically put you into foster care. They might send your parents to mandatory classes or arrange living with a relative. Keep your head high through activities, passions, or groups that reward you. Yoga, journaling, positive thinking, inspirational music and books will also help with a positive mindset.

Brie 22, San Francisco Ask me a question

You need to call CPS. This is absolutely unacceptable. Another option is to get part-time work and move in with a relative or friend.

Treyvon 19, Yorba Linda, Calif. Ask me a question

Many parents don't realize the difference between “encouragement” and repression. Call CPS immediately. They have more tools in their arsenal than just removing kids. No child should be beaten. If this was me, I'd also keep pepper spray on hand.

Molly 21, Berkeley, Calif. Ask me a question

Document everything! Take pictures of bruises and injuries and try to record their threats. Calling CPS is a good step. They won't remove you from your home unless they absolutely must. Could you live with your brother if you were working? Reach out to a school counselor. This behavior also hurts your sister to witness it.

Carlos 18, Fairfax, Va. Ask me a question

Calling CPS is a big decision. For that extra push, picture your younger sister going through the same thing.

Ochatre 23, Kampala, Uganda Ask me a question

In Uganda, most parents still believe that raising children to be respectable and successful means beating them for any wrongdoing. Children's services aren't as efficient here. Start by telling someone you trust who can easily talk to your parents. Also, talk to them yourself. Deep down they love you. Tell them they need parenting help from CPS.

Dear Scared: Your parents sound ignorant of the overwhelmingly proven principle that children become more successful through positive reinforcement rather than shaming, threatening and beating. How very sad. CPS counselors do everything possible to keep children safe while keeping families together. Most give parents like yours (with a “spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child” mentality), parenting classes, counseling — and monitoring. You will receive counseling, too.

I wouldn't blame you for moving in with a friend or relative — you have to take care of yourself. What's good about CPS is that they educate parents and oversee a healing process. Your parent's mentality needs to end and you need to mend. (You don't want to repeat this pattern with your children, which is precisely what your parents are doing). Talk to a school counselor or call Child Protective Services and ask how they would handle your situation. Look them up under your state and county.

Editor's Note: Many teens and twenty-somethings alive today had parents who grew up fearing the "belt," the "boot," the "wooden spoon," the "back of my hand," or their mom or dad going berserk in hitting, screaming, and kicking rampages. To understand the acceptability of hitting children just one generation ago, my seventh-grade teacher gave bend over public "swats" in class with a giant board with circles cut out of it. And then there was the shaming. When Boomer kids were upset, uncomfortable or whiny, a common (oh-so-comforting) line from parents was, "I'll give you something to cry about." Try wrapping your head around that when you're 3.

I am happy to say that a huge percentage of these Boomer kids grew up to be parents who broke the pattern of shaming and corporal punishment for children. It's one of the things I'm most proud of this generation for. Nonetheless, corporal punishment is still alive (and unfortunately kicking), for three reasons: 1) it's a learned behavior — humans tend to repeat negative childhood patterns especially when they are upset, overwhelmed or intoxicated;  2) ignorance — some people never got the memo; they still think inflicting fear, pain and humiliation is essential to "shaping kids up"; 3) pride and image — some parents feel compelled to use force to make their kids appear a certain way — like a status object.

To "Scared Teen with Big Dreams" and others, I'm glad we have, in every county in every state in our nation, Child Protective Services (most with 24/7 hotlines) to protect children from abuse or neglect. And we have 911. Please use these services.

Another tool is your ACE score (ACE stands for "adverse childhood experience"). This new 10-question test is one of the most enlightening advancements in the field of mental health. I recommend everyone take a few minutes for it at The ACE test and ACE study uncover how childhood traumas follow us into adulthood where they determine not only our future emotional health, but our physical illnesses as well. Most importantly, awareness of one's ACE score is a great motivator to make emotional healing a cornerstone of one's life. Things only look up from there. —Lauren

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  1. By T.N., age , from Orange County, CA on 07/23/2013

    My little sister who is 11 has a friend who spends as much time at our house as she can and spends the night as often as she can, almost every weekend lately.  However, she never invites my sister to her house. My sister and I share a room and I’ve seen bruises on this girl’s body that really look like abuse in places you can only see when she’s naked.  I don’t want anyone to think that I go out of my way to look at her naked body because I don’t, but some things are hard not to notice.  I have tried to ask her what happened and she just looks down and shrugs her shoulders.  I’ve talked to my mom about maybe reporting this to CPS, but she says we don’t really know what happened and don’t want to falsely accuse someone without real proof and if we’re wrong her parents would be really angry and could sue us.  However, this really concerns me and I can’t get it out of my mind.  I understand what my mom is saying, but how is a girl like this going to be helped if she is being abused and we’re afraid to say anything?


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  2. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Sebastopol, CA, USA on 07/23/2013

    T.N.—I’m glad you wrote. CPS does their own thorough investigation of calls that come in to them. In other words, you don’t have to worry about whether you are right or wrong, CPS will figure that out. I urge you to look up CPS in your county and report this child’s possible abuse ASAP. I know for a fact that you do not have to use your name or your family’s name. They will take your call seriously even if it is anonymous. Just say what you said in this letter, give the girl’s name and address and they will open an investigation. They are bright, sensible, caring and professional people whose goal is keeping kids safe and re-educating families. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain in potentially helping her. Please let me know how it goes. Thank you for being so caring!—Lauren

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  3. By C.M., age , from Woodland, CA on 07/24/2013

    I have a similar issue to T.N.‘s even though it does not involve CPS, and don’t know what to do.  I have a stepsister the same age I am (17).  My mom and her dad have been married 10 years and we have become close over the years, almost like real sisters.  We share a room during visitations and even often have sleepovers when it’s not a visitation weekend.  We have no shyness about undressing in front of each other, and lately I can see bad bruises on her body when she’s nude.  When I asked her what happened, she confided that her boyfriend who is 21 got drunk at a party and and thought she was being too friendly with another guy and got angry and was “a little too rough” with her afterwards.  She says he apologized the next day and she forgave him. She says it was kind of her fault because maybe she was being too friendly with the other guy.  She wants me to keep it confidential because she knows that if her dad found out he wouldn’t let her see her boyfriend and would also probably “beat the crap out of him” for doing this to her.  Knowing my stepfather, I think she’s right.  She says she’s overweight and not very attractive and this is the only boyfriend she’s ever had and doesn’t want to lose him.

    I really don’t think she should continue to see a guy who would get drunk and do something like this to her.  However, I don’t want to break her confidence, ruin our friendship, and cause her to lose her boyfriend.  I’ve told myself that she’s old enough to make her own decisions, but it still really bothers me and if something worse happened to her because I didn’t say anything, I would feel really guilty.


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  4. By H.S., age , from Salinas, CA on 07/24/2013

    My parents come from another culture where stiff corporal punishment is the norm, especially for boys.  Our dad makes us strip and hits us on the bottom with a paddle for any misbehavior.  He actually goes pretty easy on my sister and me since we’re girls, and the humiliation of having to strip for him is actually worse than the pain from the paddle.  I’ll have to admit that the threat of this humiliation keeps us in line and we don’t get punished very often.

    However, it’s different for our little brother who is only 12.  He gets beaten hard with the paddle on his bare bottom for any little thing.  To humiliate him further, my sister and I are forced to watch when our dad paddles him.  All 3 of us have to share a room because in their culture it’s normal for all the kids to sleep in one room even if they’re opposite sexes and we can see that he has very bad bruises on his bottom.  It really hurts to see our little brother hurt like this. 

    It’s easy to tell kids in our situation to call CPS, but like Scared Teen we don’t know what would happen to us.  We really don’t want to be taken away and put in a foster home, and reporting our parents could make things much worse for us if we still stayed at home.


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  5. By Brandon M, age , from Mapleton, ME on 07/27/2013

    This was a tough one for me to weigh into, but I will say that it’s not as easy going to CPS as people are claiming. In Maine, anyway, there are several regulations that if a child even asks for advice, a full blown case must start.
    The sad truth is that most older children I’ve seen end up in a foster care system full of “child farms” that demand lab0r and hard work for the foster child to “earn their keep”.  I once saw a woman making $5,000 a month from the “system”, forcing the older children into restaurant jobs at 15, keeping all of their money, feeding them beans and rice every night and using the money to pamper herself and her boyfriend of the week, and go on vacations without the kids. There’s too many of these families out there to risk being put into a situation much worse than yours. It seems that you’re close to adulthood, and I suggest you try and find a close friend to bunk with, at least then you know what you’re getting into. Other options include dorming at college while you get yourself back on your feet, or even getting into a homeless shelter to protect yourself

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