Enzo Titolo

Politics, Paranoispiricies, neologisms, diary, creative, ruminations

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Interesting Article About Sibling Violence - Enzo's ADDNotations

For some reason this article about sibling violence among children struck me as powerful, but it neglects what could be a common cause for this problem: under-diagnosed and under-treated ADD in families.

The article points out two juxtapostions. There is the sometimes serious violence contrasted with bittersweet bonds of love and family (despite the abuse) mentioned at the end of the article. [What was not mentioned was how the abusive sibling might be suffering, too, from a brain disorder combined with at least one neglectful or distant parent (who might also be suffering from a brain disorder). Also, it is interesting that the most abusive sibling in this story died so early (mid thirties) from heart disease, often a stress related illness that might have been exacerbated by mental disorders, and certainly by his serious drug and alcohol addictions.] Children are powerless in general, and especially against their parents, and if one sibling is not receiving the proper medical treatment for bipolar disorder or severe ADD then that sick child might sometimes strike where he can, I suppose: his younger brother. This abuse spreads sometimes lasting trauma and psychological damage from the sick child to the (possibly formerly-well) other child.

This article gives short shrift to mental disabilties, since, I recall that such disorders affect somewhere between 10-50% of the population during our lifetimes. This means that nearly every family might have someone with a brain or mood disorder, and there is a high genetic correlation among mental disabilities. According to the National Association for the Mentally Ill or NAMI: "The most serious and disabling conditions affect five to ten million adults (2.6 – 5.4%) and three to five million children ages five to seventeen (5 – 9%) in the United States. ... The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective; between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports. Early identification and treatment is of vital importance. By getting people the treatment they need early, recovery is accelerated and the brain is protected from further harm related to the course of illness." My reading of this article is that between 10-20% of children are suffering from serious sibling abuse, so indeed sibling abuse is not just coming from 'seriously disabled' youth like psychotic schizoprhenics, but from under-diagnosed children with ADD, which I don't think NAMI defines as 'serious or disabling.'

One of the child psychologists in this article, Dr. Caffaro, attributes this violence problem partially to boys' testosterone and over-impulsiveness, but he mainly blames the parents. Since the article states that sibling violence most often occurs between ages 6-12, I don't think that testosterone is indicated, since if boys had testosterone at those ages, then 10-20% of them would be shaving early and pumping iron. There is another difference beween pre-pubescent boys and girls, and that is the prevalence of a more aggressive form of ADD among boys compared to girls. As for the old saw of blaming the distant father and the incompetant/overwrought mother, there is some truth there, but I'd really rather that that be addressed within the context of children and parents getting their brains treated with proper nutrition, excercize, medication, and therapy. Since ADD is genetically correlated, very likely the father could be emotionally detached/irrespsonsible/workaholic and/or the mother could be scattered and less able to cope, so the parents need care, too! Caffaro's description of the parents indicates Adult ADD to me. Proper ADD treatment, not its neglect, would lead to less alcohol and drug addiction, since there is a high correlation between self-medication/addiction and untreated ADD.

The other juxtaposition in the article contrasted society's indifference and often parental indifference to widespread abuse of children and their suffering. The article points out that if anyone else were to treat children, or anyone for that matter, the way some siblings treat each other, then that would be grounds for legal or administrative intervention, as well as possibly criminal, family, or civil court involvement.

It is like Alice Miller's "Drama of the Gifted Child" pointing out how adults neglect children emotionally and abuse them through such neglect. Don't let the mistranslated title fool you: This book is not about gifted children, but the genius of all children to adapt to terrible situations fostered by the adult world's abuse of its power. Miller was wrestling with how a civilized and educated people as the Germans could perpetrate genocides in the 1930s and 1940s. She theorized that she was part of a nation of children who were mass-abused, yet they grew up in 'good' middle-class homes to become abusers themselves of their own children, and of their countrymen (Jews, Gypsies/Romanis, the mentally ill, disabled, Communists, Trade Unionists, Catholics, Gays, and others whose power was taken away) and citizens of neighboring countries that they invaded through bureaucracy, fiat, and militarism.

In case my link to the article doesn't work, here it is for posterity's sake and for the sake of discussion. All the bolded text is my own emphasis and the square brackets are mine, too:

February 28, 2006

Beyond Rivalry, a Hidden World of Sibling Violence

From infancy until he reached the threshold of manhood, the beatings Daniel W. Smith received at his older brother's hands were qualitatively different from routine sibling rivalry. Rarely did he and his brother just shove each other in the back of the family car over who was crowding whom, or wrestle over a toy firetruck.
Instead, Mr. Smith said in an interview, his brother, Sean, would grip him in a headlock or stranglehold and punch him repeatedly.

"Fighting back just made it worse, so I'd just take it and wait for it to be over," said Mr. Smith, who was 18 months younger than his brother. "What was I going to do? Where was I going to go? I was 10 years old."
To speak only of helplessness and intimidation, however, is to oversimplify a complex bond. "We played kickball with neighborhood kids, and we'd go off exploring in the woods together as if he were any other friend," said Mr. Smith, who is now 34 and a writing instructor at San Francisco State University. (Sean died of a heart attack three years ago.)

"But there was always tension," he said, "because at any moment things could go sour."

Siblings have been trading blows since God first played favorites with Cain and Abel. Nearly murderous sibling fights — over possessions, privacy, pecking orders and parental love — are woven through biblical stories, folktales, fiction and family legends.

In Genesis, Joseph's jealous older brothers strip him of his coat of many colors and throw him into a pit in the wilderness. Brutal brother-on-brother violence dominates an opening section of John Steinbeck's "East of Eden," and in Annie Proulx's short story "Brokeback Mountain," the cowboy Ennis del Mar describes an older brother who "slugged me silly ever' day."

This casual, intimate violence can be as mild as a shoving match and as savage as an attack with a baseball bat. It is so common that it is almost invisible. Parents often ignore it as long as nobody gets killed; researchers rarely study it; and many psychotherapists consider its softer forms a normal part of growing up.

But there is growing evidence that in a minority of cases, sibling warfare becomes a form of repeated, inescapable and emotionally damaging abuse, as was the case for Mr. Smith.

In a study published last year in the journal Child Maltreatment, a group of sociologists found that 35 percent of children had been "hit or attacked" by a sibling in the previous year. The study was based on phone interviews with a representative national sample of 2,030 children or those who take care of them.
Although some of the attacks may have been fleeting and harmless, more than a third were troubling on their face. [10% of the sample - Enzo]

According to a preliminary analysis of unpublished data from the study, 14 percent of the children were repeatedly attacked by a sibling; 4.55 percent were hit hard enough to sustain injuries like bruises, cuts, chipped teeth and an occasional broken bone; and 2 percent were hit by brothers or sisters wielding rocks, toys, broom handles, shovels and even knives. [now 20% of the sample - Enzo. So, 5-10 million children are suffering from untreated serious sibling abuse.]

Children ages 2 to 9 who were repeatedly attacked were twice as likely as others their age to show severe symptoms of trauma, anxiety and depression, like sleeplessness, crying spells, thoughts of suicide and fears of the dark, further unpublished data from the same study suggest.

"There are very serious forms of, and reactions to, sibling victimization," said David Finkelhor, a sociologist at the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, the study's lead author, who suggests it is often minimized.

"If I were to hit my wife, no one would have trouble seeing that as an assault or a criminal act," Dr. Finkelhor said. "When a child does the same thing to a sibling, the exact same act will be construed as a squabble, a fight or an altercation."

The sibling attacks in Dr. Finkelhor's study were equally frequent among children of all races and socioeconomic groups; they were most frequent on children 6 to 12, slightly more frequent on boys than on girls, and tapered off gradually as children entered adolescence.

As violent as sibling conflicts are among humans, they are seldom fatal, as they can be among birds and a smattering of other animals.

Siblicide is common among birds of prey, including tawny eagles, brown pelicans and kittiwakes. A Pacific Ocean seabird known as the blue-footed booby pecks at its siblings and pushes them out of the nest to die of starvation while the parents stand idly by. A baby black-crowned night heron in Minnesota was twice observed swallowing the entire head of a younger nestmate until it went limp and looked close to death. Embryonic sand tiger sharks eat one another while they're still in the womb.

Piglets are born with a special set of temporary "needle teeth" to attack their littermates in the struggle for the mother's prodigal frontal teats; the runts kicked back to the hind teat sometimes starve on its thin milk.
On the Serengeti Plain of Tanzania, spotted hyena pups, who are usually born in pairs, bite and shake each other almost from the moment they leave the womb. When the mother's milk is thin, the struggles often end with the death of one pup from wounds or malnutrition — especially, curiously enough, if the pups are the same sex.

Baby animals, researchers theorize, fight mainly to establish dominance and to compete for scarce food. Human children, on the other hand, fight not only over who got the bigger bowl of ice cream but also over who decides what game to play, who controls the remote, who is supposed to do the dishes, who started it and who is loved most.

Few experts agree on how extensive sibling abuse is, or where sibling conflict ends and abuse begins. It is rarely studied: only two major national studies, a handful of academic papers and a few specialized books have looked at it in the last quarter-century. And it is as easy to over-dramatize as it is to underestimate.

In 1980, when the sociologist Murray Straus of the University of New Hampshire published "Behind Closed Doors," a groundbreaking national study of family violence, he concluded that the sibling relationship was the most violent of human bonds. Judged strictly by counting blows, he was right: Dr. Straus and his colleagues found that 74 percent of a representative sample of children had pushed or shoved a sibling within the year and 42 percent had kicked, bitten or punched a brother or sister. (Only 3 percent of parents had attacked a child that violently, and only 3 percent of husbands had physically attacked their wives.)

John V. Caffaro, a clinical psychologist and family therapist in private practice in the San Diego suburb Del Mar, defines sibling abuse as a pattern of repeated violence and intimidation.

In an interview, Dr. Caffaro, a co-author of "Sibling Abuse Trauma," said abuse was most often determined by a combination of disengaged upbringing by parents, testosterone and family demographics. It occurs most often in large families composed entirely of closely spaced boys, and least frequently among pairs of sisters, he said.

"A kid can hit a sibling once and it can look pretty bad, but that's not what we consider abuse," he said. "We're looking for a repeated pattern and when that happens, somebody — a parent — has got to be out to lunch."
Abuse occurs most frequently, he said, when a parent is emotionally absent as a result of divorce, long working hours, extensive business travel, alcoholism, preoccupation with his or her own problems or other factors. "One or both parents aren't really around much to do their jobs. It's almost a given," Dr. Caffaro said, adding that "peripheral" fathers are particularly problematic.

"Things are chaotic, boundaries are blurred, and supervision is minimal," he said, noting that those families do not always look chaotic from the outside.

"Sometimes the father is just basically extensively out of town for business and Mom is not a good limit-setter," he said.

In other cases, he added, parents escalate conflicts by playing favorites, ignoring obvious victimization, intervening only to shut the kids up or blaming older children without understanding how younger children helped provoke them.

Dr. Caffaro said that in his experience sibling violence could rarely be attributed simply to an extraordinarily aggressive or psychotic child.

In nearly 15 years of working with more than a hundred families and adult survivors of sibling abuse, he said he could remember only a handful of such cases, one involving a girl repeatedly beaten up by a brother with schizophrenia. Although some children have poor impulse control, he said, violence only becomes repeated abuse when parents fail to nip it in the bud.

Several adults, contacted through a classified advertisement posted online on Craigslist and through a Web site for survivors of sibling abuse, said that their parents had ignored their siblings' intimidation.

"My parents tended to lessen the significance of the abuse, telling me that my brother loved me, really, and that he really was a nice person," wrote Kasun J., 21, an Australian university student, in a posting on the Web site he started under the pen name Mandragora.

Kasun J., who did not want to be further identified for fear of family repercussions, said in an interview that he still kept his distance from an older brother who once threw a clock and a set of nail clippers at his head.
Daniel Smith said that his parents rarely intervened when he and his brother fought, figuring that "boys will be boys."

When he was in sixth grade, he said, a school counselor, concerned about a violent short story he had written, asked him about possible abuse at home, and he felt relieved and hopeful. But as soon as he told her that it was his brother, not his parents, who was hitting him, the counselor dropped the subject.

"I remember thinking that she was sort of a fraud," Mr. Smith said.

Other people interviewed said they were still haunted by memories of older brothers — and an occasional sister — who dumped them out of bassinets, hit them with mop handles, sat on their chests until they feared suffocation, punched them in the mouth or stabbed them in the hands with a nutpick or compass point.
Several said they were second-born children, and they theorized that their abusive siblings had resented being displaced. None wanted to be further identified out of concerns about family privacy.

Many people said the effects of the early abuse had lingered into adulthood. Mr. Smith, for instance, said that he still fights a tendency to avoid confrontations, especially with aggressive people who remind him of his brother. Another man, an academic in his 50's who did not want to be further identified out of privacy concerns, ascribed what he called his "constant wariness" to his physical intimidation in childhood by an older sister.

"I have a high need for solitude when I work," said the professor, who added that the unwelcome shoving and wrestling started when he was a toddler and was one of the defining influences of his early emotional life.

"I'm attentive to noise," he said. "If somebody's around, a lot of my brain immediately turns to: Who is it? What's up? Are they going to bother me or sabotage me in some way?"

Several people said that the abuse continued until they reached early adolescence and became strong enough to defend themselves. In Mr. Smith's family, however, the fights became even more violent when he reached his late teens, because he took up tae kwon do, began lifting weights and eventually struck back.

One afternoon in the family kitchen when he was 19, in the course of a routine argument, his brother half-heartedly slapped him. This time, for the first time, it was Daniel who got his brother in a crushing headlock, and Daniel who pressed a forearm against his brother's nose until it bled.

Knowing he could hold the position forever, Mr. Smith let his brother up. When Sean tried to restart the fighting, Mr. Smith, much to his surprise, burst into long, jagged sobs.

"I remember feeling like I should have been triumphant and I did feel some of that, but I also felt scared and confused," he said. "It was a rite of passage for me. I'd accomplished something and become my own person."
The brothers never fought again, never spoke about the violence and were not close for most of their lives. Sean Smith went on to a difficult adult life, and had only recently freed himself from addiction to alcohol and methamphetamines when he died three years ago, Daniel Smith said.

Only then, he said, did he realize the unspoken depth and complexity of their connection. When asked whether he had forgiven his brother, Mr. Smith hesitated.

"Once he died, I realized that we had a pretty strong bond that I didn't understand or even knew existed," he said. "I can tell you I outcried everybody else at the funeral."


Post a Comment

<< Home

FAIR USE NOTICE:: This site contains images and excerpts the use of which have not been pre-authorized. This material is made available for the purpose of analysis and critique, as well as to advance the understanding of political, media and cultural issues. The 'fair use' of such material is provided for under U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with U.S. Code Title 17, Section 107, material on this site (along with credit links and attributions to original sources) is viewable for educational and intellectual purposes. If you are interested in using any copyrighted material from this site for any reason that goes beyond 'fair use,' you must first obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.