Alarm over teen abuse of parents

Alarm over teen abuse of parents

SMH | Friday, 15 August 2008

Teenage children are bashing and bullying their parents at an increasing rate in Australia, a largely hidden form of abuse that can arise from violent role models or overindulgent parenting.

Studies in NSW and Victoria show an increasing number of parents are the victims of physical and psychological violence perpetrated by their children, usually adolescent sons directing their attacks on their mothers.

A new Victorian report reveals a 23 per cent increase in domestic violence involving a person aged under 19 between 2002 and 2006. One in 10 of the state’s police family violence call-outs involves an adolescent perpetrator, and about 3500 cases happen each year.

While NSW police do not have readily available statistics, a recent study by University of Western Sydney researchers found 51 per cent of women experience some form of violence at the hands of their children. And the researchers say the figures could be even higher, because the shame and secrecy associated with child-parent violence prevents many mothers from reporting the abuse to authorities.

Jo Howard, a clinical family therapist who co-wrote the Melbourne report, said mothers often suffered years of violence before calling the police or seeking other assistance.

Many parents were confused about whether their children’s violence was normal teenage behaviour, and they minimised serious abuse as “just mucking around”.

“They would absolutely have to be at the end of their tether to call the police,” she said. “A lot of parents don’t even know they can call the police with these kinds of issues. It’s absolutely the last step.”

Ms Howard’s report documents adolescent violence in 10 families. Almost all of the sons had experienced or witnessed abuse by their fathers or other men – towards their mothers and sometimes themselves – and most also had learning and behavioural problems from an early age.

Mothers told the researchers how their sons would spit at or punch them, swear and call them names, threaten to use weapons such as knives, steal money, break objects and not allow them any privacy, even in the bathroom. They talked about always being fearful at home, and worried about how the young men would treat future girlfriends.

Ms Howard said another scenario in which adolescent violence was increasingly common was where stressed parents working long hours overindulged children and failed to set boundaries.

“Parents are trying to compensate for not being available, [they] are generally wanting to give their kids the best,” she said.

“Then the kids just start to use quite bullying tactics and slowly over time they will start to up the ante until they are smashing things and becoming quite abusive.”

In the University of Western Sydney study of more than 1000 mothers from the Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury and Penrith areas, 51 per cent reported some form of child violence ranging from physical abuse to more common forms such as swearing, denigrating, “silent treatment” and aggressively making demands.

Mothers were most fearful of sons aged between 13 and 18, and the younger the child when the behaviour began, the longer it continued and the more severe the violence became.

Lesley Wilkes, from the university’s school of nursing, oversaw the study, which also found that mothers who were young, single, had low education or were in casual employment were the most likely to suffer abuse from their children.

“Teenagers may swear at you once but they shouldn’t be doing it every day [and] no teenager should hit their mother,” Professor Wilkes said.


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