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The book, A Child Called It, by Dave Pelzer is an astonishing inside look at the life of an abused and neglected child. His journey allows the reader to see a horrible situation through the eyes of a helpless child, and has a profound impact on the emotions of his audience. After reading this book I felt compelled to read a bit more about the subject of child abuse and neglect. I have reviewed three different articles, which can be compared and contrasted with the writings of Pelzer. The articles that I read covered topics such as attachment styles and aggression in children who are abused, child maltreatment as a precursor to peer rejection, and the importance of neighborhood-based child neglect reporting. Each one of these articles touched upon topics that were significant issues in Dave Pelzer’s story.
The first of the articles that I read, entitled “Attachment Styles and Aggression in Physically Abused and Neglected Children.”, dealt with the issue of increased aggression and development of a healthy attachment style in children who are victims of child abuse and neglect. The results of study that was conducted indicate that the tendency toward physical aggression is significantly increased in physically abused children. “According to a model positing aggression as a mediator between maltreatment and peer rejection, experiencing maltreatment leads children to become more aggressive, and their aggressive behavior in turn causes them to be disliked and rejected by peers.” (Bolger 550). The model of social conflict resolution, which is displayed to the child through the parent, is a template that the child uses in their future social conflicts.
They have learned to solve problems through physical violence or force, and use this method in their own social interactions. This theory, though it holds water as indicated by the empirical data, is a contrast to the situation of Dave Pelzer in his book. Dave was a more timid personality, who experienced peer rejection and underwent severe bullying. Dave’s reaction is touched upon in another side of this theory, which is more commonly associated with neglected children. Rather than increased aggression, these children experience increased social withdrawal. The model of social interaction that the parents have displayed is insufficient for the development of secure attachment and functioning in a social context for the child.
According to this article, “Chronically maltreated children are likely to have had fewer opportunities to observe and experience empathy and responsiveness in their interactions with parents, which could impede their ability to develop pro-social skills such as helping, sharing, and cooperation.” (Bolger 551). In his book for instance, Pelzer recalls numerous occasions in which he was ignored, ostracized, and humiliated by his peers. Pelzer began to believe that no one cared about him and that he was better off dead. There were even instances when Dave states that he was allowed to play with the other children and chose not to.
Even when faced with the opportunity to interact with his peers, he withdrawals of his own volition, because he is used to being alone and has become accustomed to this way of life. “On the way home from the bowling alley, Mom stopped at a grocery store and bought each of us a toy top. When we got home, Mom said I could play outside with the other boys, but I took the toy top to the corner of the master bedroom and played by myself.” (Pelzer 124). This act is what the article refers to as social withdrawal. Dave has accepted the fact that he will never be an equal, and he gives up trying. Hence, as supported by the results of the study, Dave’s social withdrawal can be traced back to his child maltreatment.
The second article that I read, entitled “Developmental Pathways from Child Maltreatment to Peer Rejection.”, dealt with the issue of child maltreatment as a precursor to peer rejection. It’s really a “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” kind of a situation. Does the social withdrawal cause the peer rejection?, or does the peer rejection cause the social withdrawal? This article defines physical abuse as “acts of commission”, or using excessive force beyond normal discipline, and child neglect as “acts of omission”, or failing to meet the emotional and nutritional needs of the child. Dave Pelzer was a victim of both types of abuse. Not only did he not receive adequate nutrition and emotional support, he was physically tortured. Cleanliness, a concept most take for granted, was not a luxury that Dave was provided with in his youth.
In fact, his childhood nickname was “Pelzer-Smellzer”. Pelzer recalls, “Aggie’s mother taught my fourth-grade home-room, and on the last day of school Aggie came into our room acting as though she were throwing up and said “David Pelzer-Smellzer is going to be in my homeroom next year.” Her day was not complete until she fired off a rude remark about me to her friends.” (Pelzer 138). The word play used in this nickname indicates that the children disliked Dave, at least on one account, because of the way that he smelled. Body odor is an incurable problem for Dave because his it is undeniably a result of his lack of hygiene care that he receives at home. Thus, the results of the study support the idea that Dave’s peer rejection can be traced back to his mother’s “acts of omission”, in this case a nice shower with soap.
The article also discussed the topic of attachment styles. “?the physically abused children were significantly characterized by the avoidant attachment style and manifested significantly higher levels of aggression, and the neglected children were significantly characterized with the anxious or ambivalent attachment style.” (Har-Even 769). This theory is supported by Pelzer’s writings in that he displays many of the symptoms of a neglected child.
The article states that neglected children are anxious, socially withdrawn, unpopular, posses little social competence are more dependent and have a blunt affect. All of these symptoms are prevalent throughout the story of David Pelzer. He writes about his mutual love and hate for his father, how he doesn’t care about life anymore, he stresses that he has no friends and he is constantly anxious, waiting for the torment to begin around every corner. Unfortunately, David Pelzer is like the poster child for neglected children.
The third article that I read, entitled “The Role of Neighbors and the Government in Neighborhood-based Child Protection”, dealt with the issue of neighborhood-based reporting of child abuse. The article touched on the many different issues that a perspective child neglect reporter must deal with. Dave writes about so many people who failed him by not reporting his situation to someone who could help. Teachers, the school nurse, his mother’s friend Shirley, the friends of his brothers, and the neighbors on their street who never saw him outside; they all had the power to intervene, but lacked the courage.
“Mother rarely spent much time with the neighbors, so it was not natural for her when she and Shirley became friends?..Shirley asked Mother why David was not allowed to play with the other children. She as also curious why David was punished so often??In time, the relationship between Shirley and Mother became strained?
Mother ran around the house calling her a bitch.” (Pelzer 123). The article discusses the reluctances of neighbors in a potential report situation. They know that if they turn this person in for child neglect, and they are set free, they will have to remain living next to that person for the rest of their lives. “?whether or not neighbors would report child maltreatment was tempered by two primary concerns. The first was the neighbors would be angry or upset, putting a strain on daily living and harmony in the neighborhood?..the second was that the neighbor might report them in retaliation?.they could end up being wrongly accused, and risk losing their own children.” (Coulton 166). It is a situation that a lot of people are hesitant to become involved in, and perhaps this is the same reason that Dave was left to fend for himself for so many years. If any one of these people had taken that step to help Dave, he may have had a few extra years of his youth returned to him.
David Pelzer is a success story because he was one of the lucky survivors of child abuse who could get therapy, deal with his childhood issues, and begin to lead a normal and successful life. Many victims of child abuse and neglect are not as fortunate to have a happy ending to their story. That is why it is important for us, as advocates for social welfare, to learn the signs, symptoms and repercussions of child maltreatment. Peer rejection, and avoidant or ambivalent attachment styles are some of the proven indicators of potential child maltreatment. Mandated reporters, friends and neighbors should learn to recognize these indicators, and attempt to determine if action is necessary. Once we are able to identify the problem, we can then take the steps to combat it. We have learned that there are risks involved, but surely the long-term benefits would far outweigh the consequences.