Be Kind to Your Mother: Adolescent Violence on the Rise
19 February 2013 at 10:02 am
As Melbourne hosts the first-ever Australian conference on adolescent violence in the home this week, Anglicare Victoria’s General Manager of Policy, Research and Innovation Dr Sarah Wise discusses the increasing levels of adolescent violence against parents.
The message that violence against women will not be tolerated is coming through loud and clear. Over the past few months record numbers of men, women and children in this State have taken to the streets to express outrage at high profile murder cases and to join the annual White Ribbon campaign to eliminate all forms of violence against women. Open discussion of domestic violence as a public issue, growing awareness of the neurological impacts of family violence on children, not to mention the spread of support services has also been associated with a dramatic rise in reports of domestic violence to Victoria Police. Clearly, victims are more empowered than ever to step out of the dark, name what is happening and expect community protection and support.
While vigilance is needed to ensure that even greater attention, crisis support and preventive work is mobilised towards violence perpetrated on the streets and by intimate partners, a different form of violence against women is just coming to light that needs its own space on the public agenda.
As awkward and uncomfortable as it is to confront this problem, mothers have started to present to local community services to help deal with violence perpetrated by their own adolescent children. Apart from cases of parental homicide (which can usually be counted on two hands each year), incidence of adolescent-to-parent violence, or parent abuse, as it is sometimes known, is not published in official statistics anywhere in Australia. However, studies of research samples suggest that while severe forms of abuse are reasonably rare, it is quite normal for adolescents to act violently towards their parents.
Anglicare started running its first ‘Breaking the Cycle’ group program out of its Box Hill office for parents experiencing varying degrees of abuse, ranging from threats, verbal abuse and financial abuse to frank physical violence. Today, a further four groups are running in Werribee, inner-Melbourne, Broadmeadows and the Yarra Ranges (all with long waiting lists) and other community service agencies are also looking to borrow the ‘Breaking the Cycle’ model to meet the demand for services in other locations.
Coming to terms with the fact that a parent-child relationship has disintegrated into a violent and abusive cycle is both difficult and distressing. However, with therapeutic and peer support, mothers who attend the ‘Breaking the Cycle’ program are able to openly acknowledge their situation, learn to recognise the signs of abuse, better understand their own reactions as well as the feelings and emotions of their children and to develop the skills necessary to stop violence and normalise relationships.
For some women, understanding how they and their children relate to one-another involves a painful examination of violence they experienced in previous relationships with parents and intimate partners.
For mothers experiencing violence at the hands of their own children, changing dysfunctional patterns of relating requires courage, perseverance and professional support. Importantly, mothers need recognition that adolescent-to-parent violence is a public problem and concern, not merely a private failing as a parent.
As a community that appears serious about eliminating violence against women, we need to make it clear through public discussion and provision of specialist support that parental abuse is unacceptable.