LOS ANGELES—A chilling national poll of U.S. children ages 3 through 12 estimated that nearly 75 million youngsters suffer both physical and psychological abuse at the hands of their parents on a daily basis.
The poll, whose findings are part of a 700-page report released Tuesday by a coalition of child abuse monitoring and prevention organizations, indicts nearly 95 percent of American parents. It documents abuses ranging from less severe offenses, such as children being denied snacks just before dinner, to more egregious, long-term cases of neglect, such as never ever getting what they want, ever.
"My parents always tell me that I have to finish all my math homework or I won't be allowed to watch TV," said study participant and abuse victim "Derek," 10, who told researchers that some of his earliest memories were of this kind of mistreatment. "They're so mean. I hate them."
"I hate them, I hate them, I hate them," he added.
Encouraged to speak freely and confidentially about their home lives, subjects shocked even seasoned child welfare advocates with tales of systematic deprival and gratuitous cruelty. One Illinois boy told of being forced to linger with his mother in fabric stores and later leaving a Toys "R" Us empty-handed, even though the store sold a water gun he really wanted. An Arkansas 9-year-old said he spent all of third grade carrying a boring brown backpack instead of a super-cool Spider-Man one like a friend, whose parents love him, had. And a 6-year-old girl from Wisconsin was forced to sit at a dining room table for nearly two hours until she finished her canned green beans, a food widely considered by poll respondents to be disgusting and suitable only for adults.
"To hear the sadness in these kids' voices when they talk about how they are scared—literally scared—to bring home poor report cards, is heartbreaking," said Dr. Deirdre Fulton, child psychologist and director of the Nationwide Coalition to End Child Abuse, who co-authored the study. "Some of the children we interviewed even wished they were dead so their parents would feel guilty at their funerals."
"No child should ever wish to die," Fulton added.
According to pollsters, most victims were surprisingly open, even eager, to discuss their abuse, although some were less forthcoming about traumatic experiences that involved inappropriate touching.
"It's so embarrassing, and everybody sees it," said 7-year-old "Harry," whose mother hugs and kisses him goodbye in front of the school bus every day. "When it's happening, I close my eyes and wish it would stop, but it just goes on forever."
Other victims recounted similar forms of privacy invasion, such as being asked if they were wearing clean underwear, and being stripped naked and made to bathe, even after clearly stating that they did not need a bath.
Hair is another focus of unseemly pathological fixations, many children allege: Six out of 10 girls interviewed said that their mothers routinely and painfully pull, twist, and tug their hair into "stupid" hairstyles like pigtails, and some boys said that their mothers go so far as to use saliva to paste their hair into place.
According to the report, a shocking 100 percent of children who claimed to have been abused said their parents repeatedly answered "maybe" to a request, and then withheld from them a definitive answer for hours or, in some cases, days.
In addition to those who admitted to being touched inappropriately, 93 percent of children said they have, at one point or another, been subject to various types of physical abuse.
"My parents make me practice the piano for like 20 hours a day," said 8-year-old "Lacy," adding that sometimes she will hide in her closet to avoid rehearsal. "They told me if I hate it so much I can quit when I'm in seventh grade. That's like 40 years from now."
Some children, mostly boys, have even been pressed into brutal physical labor by their fathers, who demand their sons help them in the yard on Saturdays—one of only two days off for children who spend an average of 600 hours a week at school.
"He treats me like a slave," 12-year-old "Michael" said. "It's like it's my fault that my dad decided to buy a house with a lawn. And then when I do help, he says I shouldn't have had a bad attitude about it."
"Mom just sits there and lets the entire thing happen," "Michael" added.
In some of the more disturbing cases of abuse, parents reportedly take a domineering interest in their children's social lives, often threatening severe but undefined punishment for not being home by dark. Some children said their parents attempt to cut them off completely from the outside world, making many websites and television channels inaccessible and never letting them hang out with their friends.
The National Parents Association declined to comment on the overwhelming levels of abuse. When asked why they wouldn't comment, the NPA released a tersely worded statement: "Because we said so."