Violence committed by children against their parents has increased notably. Between 2008 and 2010, a telephone helpline for parents received more than 22,000 calls reporting aggressive acts in the UK. 7,000 of those included cases of physical abuse.
Though it seems to be a taboo subject for many families, judicial reports reflect an increase each time in cases of mothers and fathers who, at the end of their tethers, are forced to report their children for families and psychological attacks.
These attacks are considered by experts to be the third type of interfamilial or domestic violence, along with with parent-child violence and conjugal or gender-based violence. In fact, one in every four deaths in the United Kingdom is committed by one family member against another.
Child-parent violence, also known as TVAP (Teen Violence Against Parents), has always existed, although only rarely have parents dared to make their suffering known, keeping it within a the private sphere.
Traditionally, this type of mistreatment has been associated with mental illnesses that cause these violent actions. However, their appearance today, in families whose children do not suffer from any psychological disorder or have any prior offenses, has set alarm bells ringing.
Though there is no clear profile of a ‘child aggressor’, the majority are usually boys between 12 and 18-years-old, and especially between 15 and 17. In addition, contrary to assumption, given social cliches, this type of violence is most common in middle and upper class families than in those with low economic resources.
In the case of boys, the attacks on parents are tend to be more phsycial, this form being a more brutal and direct attack. But in relation to girls, the violence is more subtle, psychologically and emotionally wounding their parents.
From threats, blackmail, extortion and contempt to insults, humiliation and blows, child-parent violence comes in a multitude of forms that, on many occasions, parents refuse to accept, considering the situation just as a stage of adolescent rebellion.
But nothing could be further than the truth. It is behavior that has nothing to do with biological causes related to age, nor the development of one’s self towards being an individual independent of parents.
Factors that can influence the appearance of this type of violence are varied, from social and cultural factors to individuals and families, among others.
The fact that we live in a very permissive society, in which liberty is confused with the absence of authority, adds to the case that violence is a learned behavior. This is to say that it is passed down to younger generations through the family, games, the environment, schools and the media, and other ways.
Children, therefore, who in many instances are overprotected and familiar with the culture of self-satisfaction and the absence of responsibility, believe they have the right to demand that their wishes are met and, if not, they rebel violently against authority. In this case: their parents.
Other causes could be the previous experiences of poor treatment or an unbalanced family life; the changes in family models, with parents often older and with less energy to maintain authority; excessively permissive parenting styles or even drug problems and other types of addition.
These factors do not directly imply that the child will become aggressive. However, experts highlight that all teenagers who behave badly towards their parents have experienced the same circumstances, or else similar ones.
Faced with these abusive situations, victims have traditionally opted for silence, as noted by Rachel Condry, a doctor at the Centre for Criminology at the University of Oxford.
Condry stressed that many parents decide not to tell the authorities or those close to them about the situation, because of the shame and the stigma of being considered bad parents, the lack of possible solutions and the disbelief from others that they would be victims of this type of violence.
In many instances, there is also the fear of negative repercussions for the children and the instinct to protect them at all costs.
Contrary to what one might think, cutting out this type of behavior is a task to be underaken not just within the private sphere of the family, but also in schools. In both places, they must teach that violence is not the way to solve problems.
The key resides in the type of education received and family unit that is created. Which is to say, that parents have to create a coherent system that doesn’t confuse the child, in which the parental figures are in change, but democratically so, talking and negotiating family decisions and disagreements.
More than this, it has to be taken into account that child-parent violence does not come out of nowhere. Therefore, when the first manifestations of violent behavior are detected, there must be a solution to prevent the situation from becoming irreversible.
(Translated by Daniela Fetta)