Children’s violence towards parents is not perceived as sufficiently dangerous to merit as great a focus as domestic violence and indeed it may not be. However, the incidence of parental abuse is definitely on the increase.
In earlier years of my work, as a drug and alcohol counsellor working in homes where children lived with parents who were substance dependent, I do not recall more than a handful of children who behaved violently towards their parents. In more recent years the number has increased and it alarms me that there is such a paucity of services equipped, or funded, to help parents who find themselves in such distressing circumstances. In the past year I worked intensively with a mother of an eleven year old daughter who was so violent that mum locked herself in her bedroom as she listened to the child cause serious damage to the rental property: punching holes in doors, throwing items into windows, damaging the TV and stereo system, and screaming loudly to attract attention from people outside the home.
There were two other single parents experiencing parental abuse which required police intervention and the police applied for an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) on the parents’ behalf, against the child. Another incident involved a ten year old boy physically assaulted his mother in a supermarket car lot. Bystanders tried to intervene but were threatened by the child. The police were called and removed the child from the scene.
There is not a lot of research, because of parents’ reluctance to report, but the little I did find had similar points to make in relation to the possible increase of parental abuse.
- More women are leaving violent men, which is a good thing, but women become vulnerable as their children have witnessed their parents violence towards each other
- Parents are more indulgent of their children, permissive and democratic. Being raised in a democratic environment is generally a good thing but for some children this could become a serious problem.
- Societal changes have shifted in numerous ways many of which affect children. We no longer value older people, are less responsive to authority, we value individualism and independence, changes in parenting styles, media culture, the internet, accessibility to gadgets with which to be constantly bombarded with information and knowledge. To quote one of the sources I have drawn from:
“Media culture (playing an increasingly large role in children’s lives) encourages kids to be demanding, over-entitled, bratty consumers with little respect for age or authority and a general air of nihilistic negativity”
The Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse Topic Paper: Adolescent Violence Towards Parents cites four different types of parental abuse:
- Physical abuse: hitting, punching, shoving, breaking things, punching holes in walls, throwing things and spitting;
- Psychological abuse: intimidating the parent, making them fearful;
- Emotional abuse: maliciously playing mind games, trying to make the parents think he or she is crazy; making unrealistic demands on parents, such as insisting they drop what they are doing to comply with their demands; lying, running away from home and staying away all night; making manipulative threats, such as threading to run away, commit suicide or otherwise hurt themselves without really intending to do so; and controlling the running of the household.
- Financial abuse: stealing money or parents’ belongings; selling possessions – theirs or their parents’; destroying the home or parents’ belongings; incurring debts the parents must cover; demanding parents buy things they don’t feel they can afford.
There is never a single cause of parental abuse although being male is the biggest influence and the number of girls involved in these behaviours is steadily increasing. Mothers are the most common victims although fathers come in for their share of abuse from their children with children claiming to abuse their fathers more frequently than mothers. The reason? Apparently it is embarrassing to admit to abusing your mother but abusing your father is seen by peers as something to boast about …
I wonder where we’re headed?