Does Parental Neglect or Abuse Impair Learning and Intelligence?


“We’ve spent a generation trying to reorganize schools to make them better, but the truth is that people learn from the people they love.”  — David Brooks – Social Animal: How the New Sciences of Human Nature can Help Make Sense of LifeThe New Yorker 

We all know someone who remembers how discipline was meted out by the nuns in their childhood. 

Although “sparing the rod” would “spoil the child” was a commonly accepted old-school parenting philosophy, corporal punishment is flawed. It leads to lower IQ levels and lower scores on other tests of cognitive development.

The details about corporal punishment are documented in IQ and Post Traumatic Stress Symptoms in Children Exposed to Interpersonal Violence. This article was published in 2006 in Child Psychiatry Human Development.  

Parents who use corporal punishment for behavior management also wound their children psychologically. Although it will take time and love for the wounds to heal, it is possible.  A family can overcome a troubled legacy.

the aftermath of abuse

How can parents deal with the aftermath of abuse or neglect? What preventative or corrective action can be taken to ensure a child will fulfill their potential?

Supportive parents know that fostering relationships with a variety of positive individuals outside of a child’s immediate family is beneficial. There is much wisdom in the old adage “it takes a village to raise a child.” So where do parents in need of support and good role models turn?

finding role models

All communities have a place of worship where affordable programs and counseling services are available. A child can meet new friends there and participate in positive social activities. The family can also benefit from counseling services. After a while, a family can expand their social circle to include a more diverse group of conscientious people.

Support groups that meet regularly for parents to share can also become a coping tool and a worthwhile resource. A parent can relate to another’s frustration, anxiety, or pain. As a result, they understand their options and will begin feeling more hopeful. If a parent participates and remains committed to the group, they will enjoy the transformation. This occurs as part of the healing process.     

All schools have guidance counselors which can confidentially support the psychologic needs of a student while providing guidance to the parents. When a counselor informs the teacher of a student who is a victim of parental neglect or abuse, the teacher can monitor their actions and pay close attention to that child’s emotional needs. With the passage of time, a family can come to terms with their challenges and develop more effective ways of communicating.

bonding through sports

Playing sports together can be both fun and therapeutic. I remember feeling an indescribable connection with my father and a great sense of pride with my son while tossing a baseball, shooting hoops, or kicking a soccer ball. Few words were needed to convey our mutual satisfaction. Our body language — smiles of approval and gestures of acceptance — spoke volumes. 

On an entirely different level is the excitement and joy I experienced while attending and coaching my son’s sporting events. Although I hadn’t played enough soccer while coming of age up in Brooklyn, New York to be an effective coach, I did possess the baseball and basketball skills to take the helm a few seasons for a group of budding adolescents.   

Team sports are a great way to bond with your son while observing how he interacts with his peers. Youth groups like the boy scouts can also provide the opportunity to help your son build some important life skills and make memories that could last a lifetime.

Joseph Cohen is the co-author of Write Father, Write Son: A Bond-Building Journey and  President and co-founder, Empowered Fathers in Action (EFA) Foundation