The psychological reactions of children who have been sexually abused vary from child to child both in their nature and severity. Research has shown that many characteristics of the abuse-such as the identity of the perpetrator, the type of abuse, its frequency, and whether force was used-can have an impact on how child sexual abuse survivors respond. Other factors having to do with parenting behavior may also shape abused children's psychosocial reactions. This study aimed to uncover what aspects of parenting influenced children's functioning after sexual abuse, in order to give insight into what interventions could help parents better support their children. Another study of the same group of children and parents-"Sexually abused children suffering posttraumatic stress symptoms: initial treatment outcome findings"-was published by these authors in 1996.
One hundred sexually abused children, ages 7 to 13, and their mothers or female guardians participated in this study. The children were interviewed and given structured assessments to measure their PTSD symptoms, depression, and anxiety. The children were also asked for their perceptions of their mothers' parenting styles, using another test. Mothers reported on their children's PTSD symptoms and behavior, their own parenting practices, and their own depression through interviews and assessment instruments.
The researchers' analysis of the data they collected found links between many aspects of the mothers' parenting styles and their children's behavior and psychological functioning. For example, children's depression was linked to a parenting style on the part of mothers that was rejecting rather than accepting. Children who reported that their mothers used parenting methods that provoked guilt and anxiety in them had more PTSD symptoms. These same children, according to their mothers' reports, had more externalizing problem behavior.
These research outcomes suggest the need to engage both abused children and their mothers in treatment by offering cognitive-behavioral methods that help strengthen parenting skills and address mothers' depression, while treating the children as well.