When did child abuse become a "bad" thing?...

Yes, child abuse is and has never been a “good” thing, but growing up in Hawaii in the 60’s and 70’s, my classmates (and I) would go to school with obvious welts and bruises especially after the weekend when parents had their parties. A typical conversation (in our local pidgin English would be:

“Wat, you got lickins’?”* = “Did you get a beating”
“Yeah” "
“Wat you did?” = “What did you do?”
“Came home late”

“lickins’” was the the normal few welts and bruises
“dirty lickins’” was heavy bruising and when I look back, I’m sure a few of the broken arms or wrists weren’t always from a fall.

My Dad would hit me with a belt when I didn’t want to go to school (which was often) and it left clear welts on my arms, legs and anywhere else it landed. When I asked him why he didn’t drink like other Dads and he said “Why, do you want me to come home drunk and beat you up?” So, yeah not a secret in the adult circles.

We were never sent to the nurse or had our markings even acknowledged by the teachers. There was a girl in one of my grade school classes who would always come to school in the same dress, looked like she just had or was ready to cry and smelled of pee because she’s wet herself in class. She’d take the boys behind the cafeteria (I never participated) and expose herself to them. I seem to recall she let some of them touch her. She disappeared part way through the school year and it was only recently that I realized she must have been sexually abused. Sorry Camille! :frowning:

Edit: Just remembered. The younger sister and mother of my neighbor would come over to my house whenever the Dad/husband would come home on a mean fist swinging drunk. They’d spend a few hours at my house, usually sitting outside until returning home.

FYI, my Dad was a great guy, doing lots of things with and for me until he passed away when I was in my early 30’s. I love him dearly and I know he loved me dearly too, but can’t help but wonder if some of it was to make up for what he did. Same with my Mom who passed away a couple of years ago.

In the early 80’s, my friend and I thought it would be funny to pull up to our mutual friends house about 10pm and call out his name, once. We did and drove away. The next day he showed up having been clearly beaten. He said his Dad got mad and did it. I stopped talking to him because I felt so bad. The last time I talked to him was few months later when I heard he broke someone’s leg in a fight. I asked how he did it and he replied deadpan “Just kept jumping up and down”. Sorry Alex! :frowning:

I am sorry all that happened to you, and to people you know.

I think its fair to say, child abuse has been a bad thing since human pre-history. And yes, so long as written records exist, some very stubborn adults needed it written down, “Don’t ruin children’s bodies just 'cause you feel like it.” I seem to recall the Code of Hammurabi had some phrases chronicling that.

I was spanked by parents and nuns when I misbehaved, but never bruised by them. So standards have shifted, and people have reacted with more caution than they used to have.


Maybe because the news is more easy to read now, thanks to the internet. I know I’d never heard of your circumstance, until just now. But I’m sure I can Google all the lurid tales of abuse I could ever care to read about.

But your posts are practically IMHO material.

What’s changed is, on one hand, what is considered abusive, and on the other, that we’ve gone from considering what happened inside the family as an internal matter to realizing that no, it’s not.

There’s been a gradual decline in the acceptability of corporal punishment, though the OP describes things that were beyond the norm even in that time. Not THAT far beyond, though.

I do not believe that is any one time, though, when it “became” unacceptable. It’s just been a bit at a time.

Well, I was born in 1970. A nurse called CPS on my mother because I managed to crack my head open twice in one week (Not my mom’s fault).

So I guess there were some limits.

I can remember when I was in elementary school in the late '60’s, many times a teacher who had reached her limits, dragging a kid to the principal’s office where I’m sure he got a strapping of some sort. I never witnessed it, but that’s what we all assumed was happening. I wonder when that practice fell by the wayside?

I’ve been told, and I believe it, that you can’t make your kids grow up to be “good,” but you definitely can turn them into monsters, through physical and psychological abuse. DON’T turn your kids into monsters.

I’ve never wanted and thankfully don’t have any children exactly because I know what I’m capable of because of my upbringing. I felt a surge of rage when my sister and parents were arguing because my nephew didn’t want to go to school. My parents won out and took him to work with them (my Dad had his own small business) saying “That’s okay, he doesn’t have to go if he doesn’t want to.” WHAT!!! Where’s the belt, where’s the whippings, where’s the yelling??? I just looked at my sister and silently shook my head.

In the early 80s my older brother and I threatened to tell our teachers about the abuse at home. Our mom stopped physically abusing us after that.

So by the early 80s it was considered unethical and illegal. No idea about before that.

Dave, Pelzer who wrote a child called it was born in 1960. Much of his abuse was in the 60s and 70s, and he implied that it was pretty much legal back then.

Since most of the responses are going to be anecdotal or opinion, let’s move this to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

Historians generally date the idea of child abuse as a societal problem that needed to be addressed from 1962, when an article titled “The Battered-Child Syndrome” was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More about the impact of the original article in this HuffPo article on the 50th anniversary in 2012.


Just a WAG: There’s no such thing as “parents”, just people who have kids. As it goes with people, knowledge and wisdom accrete with the years, and with that, patience and perspective. I’m not much like who I was 15 or 25 years ago, can’t really expect “parents” to remain static either.

But yeah, kids come to us fairly early in the living process. Frequently before we’ve had enough time to recognize our worst flaws and get all introspective and deal with them.

I think it’s hard to separate out historically the concept of child abuse as a bad thing and traditional views of corporal punishment of children as a good thing, when “necessary”.

It would be interesting to track these developments in parallel with the historical usage of the phrase “spare the rod and spoil the child”.

Also, grandparents are notoriously more indulgent with children than parents are, irrespective of how they treated those same parents in their own childhoods. Whether this can be ascribed to increasing knowledge and wisdom or to decreasing concern for the consequences due to not being the primary disciplinarians and caretakers of said children probably varies a lot from individual to individual.

It disturbs me that there was before that an unwritten but well-known agreement that abuse of family members was a private matter, that if you knew or found out then you turned a blind eye. I think what you were supposed to say to yourself was “That’s his problem.”

Looking back, there’s a lot of bad stuff contained in those three words.

Yeah, I’m not a gramps yet so I can’t say for sure either. But as my kids approach their breeding stage I find myself reviewing my own parenting strategies and thinking to myself, “OK, bring me the babies, I know how this works now.”