The number of parents being terrorised and assaulted by their violent children is growing, parenting charities warn.
Children and young people's violence against parents is "the last taboo" of family life and goes largely unreported as parents attempt to protect their aggressive offspring from authorities, they say. The charity Family Lives has seen an increasing number of parents ring its Parentline about their children's violent behaviour.
Between July 2010 and June 2011, such calls rose by 2 per cent, while calls about a child's verbal aggression rose by 4 per cent. Abusive behaviour adopted by young people against their parents ranged from "verbal abuse, power tactics, emotional control, intimidation, through to physical abuses of kicking, spitting, punching, slapping, destruction of property, use of weapons and threats to kill", according to Lynette Robinson, a restorative justice specialist who has become an expert in child-on-parent violence.
Although many of the families affected are single mothers raising adolescent sons, the problem was found across families in all income groups and affected married couples as well as single parents, she said.
Some are forced to hand over large sums of money to their teenagers because of fear of retribution to themselves and their other children. Despite such abusive behaviour, parents stressed how much they loved their children and how caring and thoughtful they were when not having violent outbursts.
Research in the United States has suggested that between 7 and 18 per cent of two-parent families and up to 29 per cent of single-parent families may suffer at the hands of their violent children. A research project by Dr Rachel Condry, at Oxford University's Centre of Criminology, has so far concluded it is a "significant" and "increasing" problem in the UK.
Jeremy Todd, chief executive of Family Lives, said: "Children's violent and aggressive behaviour in the home is a hidden and stigmatised issue. There are many reasons that can explain why children behave in an aggressive way at home. Answers commonly include an inadequate approach to parenting, a lack of respect, sudden and unpredictable changes to the family routine, parental domestic violence or bullying at school, which causes the anger and hurt to spill out at home."
Sandra Ashley, director of Hertfordshire Practical Parenting Programme, which was recently awarded a £186,000 grant from the Big Lottery Fund, believes that child-on-parent domestic violence is "seriously under-reported" and a "clear indication of family breakdown". She said: "We have found that this type of domestic violence usually slips through the statutory agencies' net because they focus on either violence by adults against children, or on adult-to-adult domestic violence.
"In fact, we have found that parents and carers are often unwilling to ask any statutory agencies for help with this problem, for fear of their children becoming known to the police, or of their being taken into care."
Ann Cowey, a family support worker at a Family Lives project in Newcastle, said her project has supported the parents of violent children as young as two, but that the number of cases peaked at the ages of 10 or 11.
'She would hit, kick, punch and spit at me'
A woman from Hertfordshire, who did not want to be named, tells The Independent how she dealt with her child's violent tendencies.
My daughter's violent behaviour started when her father and I broke up. She had seen her dad being aggressive and seemed to slip seamlessly into the role of aggressor. I was so low and physically exhausted that my self-esteem allowed her to treat me as she saw fit.
At first it was insults and put-downs. The violence escalated when I told her she was not allowed to go to a party – her unprovoked attack left me physically injured and scared. After that she would hit, kick punch, push and spit at me. On the internet I found little to suggest there were parents like me...I realised this was something parents didn't discuss openly.
I was terrified about disclosing it, because I thought I'd be seen as an unfit mother and my child would be taken away from me.
My daughter got into some trouble in the park and was given an Asbo. I then had the chance to get support from Hertfordshire Practical Parenting Programme. I had a big bruise on my arm when the worker came to see me; the floodgates opened and I told her everything. Over the weeks small changes happened. It wasn't easy, but slowly I began to recover my authority and as a parent."
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