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To think that perceptions of child abuse have changed a lot over the years?

(119 Posts)
extremepie Mon 11-Feb-13 20:34:51

Been reading some threads on here recently that have got we thinking about the definitions of 'child abuse' and how it has changed a lot over time.

Some things that were quite commonplace 20 years ago would now leave people gasping in horror but at the time it was just seen as discipline and, by extension, good parenting.

The example that springs to mind is the whole 'washing child's mouth out with soap if they swear' - quite normal when I was a child but now would land you an appointment with social services.

Why the shift for one generation to the next? Why have attitudes changed so dramatically to how we discipline our kids when, generally speaking it seems that people are growing up more badly behaved now we don't use these 'abusive' practices anymore? Abviously I am generalising but AIBU to wonder why things have changed so much?

gordyslovesheep Mon 11-Feb-13 21:15:47

I agree, but then we didnt have disruptives in school, drugs were not common place, children were still respectful of their elders and had common manners and courtesy, men doffed caps and stood for ladies - all of which today are just so bloody awfully mysoginist and we clearly didnt let children express them selves at the expense of others learning. sufficiently

erm none of that reflects my experience - sorry - I grew up in a fairly deprived area - we had badly behaved kids in school, graffiti, drugs where massively common (my mums friend and mother of 3 ended up a heroin addict) and I was always encouraged to express myself and have opnions

Birdsgottafly Mon 11-Feb-13 21:17:21

The 1989 Children Act was a big turning point.

SashaSashays Mon 11-Feb-13 21:17:57

I have wondered about this, and I know I'm dredging up the mn obsession but is class in some way relevant.

Having discussed a similar topic at work recently. I grew up in the seventies, I was smacked, once or twice got the whacker. I never did have my mouth washed out with soap but I knew of lots of children who did, I was told I'd be given something to really cry about (which was recently labelled abuse on another thread), toys binned, dinner removed etc. I grew up in a poor working class council estate in inner London. There was a noticeable difference between the discipline in the upbringings of my colleagues who had middle class type upbringings and those who were like me.

Its something I've been pondering.

However yanbu that there has been a shift, I'm not sure if its that we've all become a lot less emotionally repressed or more child and youth centric as a society.

thebody Mon 11-Feb-13 21:21:15

Tee it is now a quote I have to learn. Fantastic.

Birdsgottafly Mon 11-Feb-13 21:23:41

I grew up in the 70's/80's in the area that i live in now.

It is less violent now and now at leat the perpetraitors are punished.

There is certainly less child abuse/neglect and less DV.

Drugs have replaced alcohol, but the effect isn't any worse, on the children growing up amongst that, tbh.

People have rose tinted glasses when talking about the past.

Dawndonna Mon 11-Feb-13 21:24:45

Thebody I just don't have anything to do with her. She's 77 now and still a nasty manipulative old bat. However, I have a supportive husband, understanding siblings and fabulous children. My oldest is 28. He left home at 18 and he has come almost home every weekend since, and not just to get his washing done! I think that says a lot, taking into consideration that I left at 17 and have never been back.

Dawndonna Mon 11-Feb-13 21:25:34

what nonsense! He has come home almost every weekend since! Sorry, I don't even have wine as an excuse this evening!

babanouche Mon 11-Feb-13 21:30:03

Reading this has made me think about how young we are in our evolution. Yes, I do realise how wanky that sounds. I read somewhere that were slow to change because we learn our parents habits and can only improve on them in a limited way.

HollyBerryBush Mon 11-Feb-13 21:31:27

I went through my teens without a care in the world. If a bloke pinched my arse, he'd get a slap back - and I was safe knowing he'd know why he got a slap back - today a girl would probably get a full on punch in the face.

I worry all the time when my boys go out - I worry that they will be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get shanked. I worry someone will slip something into their drink/they will we stupid enough to try something.

Conversely I worry if you have 2 equally matched lads having a spat that when I was growing up it was sorted with a bloody lip and a hand shake - today its an assult and ruins your life.

The whole world is just pearshaped.

I think I prefered it when I was growing up.

ComposHat Mon 11-Feb-13 21:43:21

It is quite an interesting question, when do children get rights independent of their parents? Something I need to consider in my PhD.

It is a gradual process and it is in constant conflict with the notion that the authority of the state should stop at the front door of the home and shouldn't interfere in the 'private' world of the family. I'd argue that this position was gradually eroded across the second half of the nineteenth century and was utterly shaken by the Boer War and fears over the degredation of the British 'race'.

The 'tipping point' I'd argue is the 1908 Children Act which served as a beach head from which the state extended its rights and responsibilty over the child.

timidviper Mon 11-Feb-13 21:44:43

I don't think it is the removal of these "abusive" punishments that is leading to poorer behaviour but is the removal of the clear, defined boundaries and standards of behaviour. E.g. Using an example given above: 'Don't swear or I'll wash your mouth out with soap' has not been replaced by 'Don't swear or I will ground you/confiscate your phone/similar' but has gone to 'Please don't swear'....'Please don't swear'...'Please don't swear'...with no effect or consequences.

My children are in their early 20s and I am often shocked by the posts on here from younger mums who do not seem to understand the importance of setting boundaries in young children as a precursor to good behaviour when they are older. Often it is for very nice reasons "but he's so sweet/I love him so much/etc" but there does seem, now, to be an attitude that the world should be child-centric which I think is storing up problems

Dawndonna They say the best revenge is living well and having such a lovely family is the best way to refute your horrible mother. Well done.

SashaSashays Mon 11-Feb-13 21:48:30

I don't know much about the 1908 Children Act, but I know in the Victorian era and shortly after the idea of a childhood really took off, as well as compulsory schooling, workers rights for children, do-gooding the advent of Barnardos etc

All of these organisations did things which by now would be considered quite appalling but yes I suppose the really big change was when childhood became a 'thing' and then people started to work towards what a childhood should and shouldn't include.

babanouche Mon 11-Feb-13 21:51:57

I don't know that kids are more badly behaved at all. If they are it's probably got more to do with not having the freedom to express their energy the way we used to do.

ComposHat Mon 11-Feb-13 21:55:49

Sasha George K Behlmer's Child Abuse and Moral Reform in England, 1870-1908 is a pretty good and readable account of this process.

But it is interesting to think that our concept of childhood as a specific life-stage is no more than a couple of hundred years old.

SashaSashays Mon 11-Feb-13 22:04:34

Thanks Compos, I have to admit I'm not a great reader but at some point I intend to take a look.

I do think its very interesting and its something that often enters my head in debates about things being age appropriate on letting 'kids be kids'. I'm not quite sure what my views on it are, I do wonder if as it is in effect an invented concept whether its now just something reinforced to sell us products or if should even be valued as highly as it is and then I also wonder about how invented it actually is.

I understand from my own family and the little reading I have done that the idea of childhood took a little longer to seep down into the working class, (but this was mainly because of financial limitations within families i.e. children had to work to survive) so I'm not sure if I think that has continued up until recently or even now.

Bunfags Mon 11-Feb-13 22:10:30

I think we've made a lot of progress, but there are some things that I think were good for us. I remember my friend and I coming home to either one of our houses after school and cooking ourself stuff. Not just bunging stuff in the oven, but making flapjacks. confused I think that would be frowned upon with 10 year olds these days. I think it encourages independence though.

goodmum123 Mon 11-Feb-13 22:11:16

Dawndonna, sorry about your terrible childhood. Bought a tear to my eye. Glad you are happy and hot through it (hugs) x

goodmum123 Mon 11-Feb-13 22:11:42


WilsonFrickett Mon 11-Feb-13 22:17:02

YY to childhood being a relatively new 'thing' I grew up in a mining community and from the little research I've done, children were adults from the age of 8, down a pit bent double picking up shale and dragging it in carts up to the surface. I would suspect they didn't have the energy to be 'badly behaved'.

MrsKeithRichards Mon 11-Feb-13 22:24:28

Can we not minimise abuse and confuse abuse with misguided and outraged discipline? Child abuse isn't defined in a black and white manner.

It was only a few generations ago Mary Ellen had to be protected against abuse by using the already in place animal cruelty laws because none existed for children. Abuse hasn't changed.

ComposHat Mon 11-Feb-13 22:31:50

I understand from my own family and the little reading I have done that the idea of childhood took a little longer to seep down into the working class, (but this was mainly because of financial limitations within families i.e. children had to work to survive) so I'm not sure if I think that has continued up until recently or even now

Yep absolutely. The notion of a universal childhood isn't something that emerged until comparatively late, certainly working class children were the last to benefit from it.

nokidshere Mon 11-Feb-13 22:46:38

I agree, but then we didnt have disruptives in school, drugs were not common place, children were still respectful of their elders and had common manners and courtesy, men doffed caps and stood for ladies - all of which today are just so bloody awfully mysoginist and we clearly didnt let children express them selves at the expense of others learning.

Sorry but I grew up in the 60's and 70's and you are looking through rose coloured glasses I think!!!! Children have been the same since time began and, as someone else said, its only the way we treat them that has changed - thankfully for the majority of us, for the better.

Poverty was worse then than it is now. No coming home and cooking flapjacks for us - we would have been lucky if there was stale bread to eat! Moonlight flits were common, strikes and unrest weekly events. If we got hit at school for being naughty then we got hit again at home for getting hit in the first place! Rulers and canes were commonplace, as was washing out mouths with soap. Drugs were more widely available than they are now and sentences for offenders lighter.

The problem (as I see it) is that discipline has become a dirty word and so, for many, they just avoid it completely. It is perfectly possible to have rules and discipline without being abusive and without being seen as an ogre by your children. I wouldn't want my children to live in the world that I did but nor do I want them to grow up without respect and kindness for others.

extremepie Mon 11-Feb-13 22:52:09

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that it was a bad thing that 'times have changed' - if they hadn't my 6yr old DS would be sweeping chimneys for a living!

It's not that children in other generations have never misbehaved (or course they have!) but it seems like the development of, say, smacking from discipline into abuse is a fairly recent one.

That isn't a bad thing necessarily, I didn't realise some of the laws brought in to give children rights were that recent, I imagine that has a lot to do with it.

I suppose I started thinking about it because I was smacked as a child, not just the odd smack on the leg but was regularly hit with a wooden spoon, belts and slippers - I used to go swimming at school with spoon shaped bruises on my legs. Yet I never felt that I had been abused, just disciplined, as I assumed (perhaps wrongly) that most other children were. It just never felt abnormal or wrong, no one at school ever noticed or said anything about it (which reinforced the fact that it was 'normal' to me). I'm certain, however, that the way my parents punished me and my siblings would definitely be seen as abuse now (I'm only 27 btw, so this wasn't that long ago!)

GrowSomeCress Mon 11-Feb-13 22:54:47

I have actually heard people on MN suggest that shouting at a child is abuse grin

Bunfags Mon 11-Feb-13 22:57:50

DP was smacked with spoons and had his mouth washed out whith soap and water. I was shock when he told me. His mum was very strict, but I think my folks we more liberal, lentil weaving teacher types. They would still give us a bollocking and send us to be without dinner. It was scarey.

Also, we were never allowed to have a drink back in those days. I remember kids would practically have to beg for one when they were out with parents or family. Do you think this has caused a lot of UTI's and kidney stones?

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