Parents who live in fear of violent and abusive kids

Debbie McDonagh of the Western Region Drug and Alcohol Task Force, Regional Family Support Co-ordinator, with the Family Support Handbook launched recently. Photo: Iain McDonald.
Debbie McDonagh of the Western Region Drug and Alcohol Task Force, Regional Family Support Co-ordinator, with the Family Support Handbook launched recently. Photo: Iain McDonald.

Lifestyle – Dearbhla Geraghty attended the Child to Parent Violence Seminar in Galway and heard of a growing prevalence of the issue

Parents are living in fear of violence and abuse at the hands of their own children – which has seen a massive increase, with incidents in Galway now in line with those on an international level.

The Child to Parent Violence Seminar, held in the Menlo Park Hotel last week, was one of a number of events organised by the Western Region Drug & Alcohol Task Force for its annual awareness week.

“There is a difference between childhood testing of boundaries – that is totally normal,” says Eileen Lauster, trainer on the NVR (Non-Violent Resistance) programme.

“The difference is the power – manipulation, abuse, where parents feel afraid in their own homes; when they don’t feel in charge any more, and the child is coercing, controlling, and dominating. The child can also be abusive towards siblings.”

She describes this as “an emerging problem” for families and practitioners, not helped by the fact that many parents/guardians deny or minimise the issue, or blame themselves – leaving them in a very isolated place.

Ms Lauster drew comparisons to 10-15 years ago, when domestic violence was a taboo subject, but asking a person if they felt safe at home was often enough to encourage them to speak about it – the same applies to professionals approaching parents who are subjected to violence at the hands of their own children.

She says that they are reluctant to talk about the issue until it reaches unbearable levels, due to a strong impulse to protect their child from coming to the attention of Gardaí or the health services.

For this reason, the statistics underestimate the actual numbers involved – figures from the UK suggest that this type of violence affects 18% of two-parent families, and 29% of one-parent families (similarly reflective of the situation here in Galway).

“Bear in mind, that parents are very desperate when they do actually call the police,” Ms Lauster added.

And, most interestingly, this is not a class-related issue – it affects all socio-economic and cultural groups, although mothers parenting alone are more susceptible.

“There are well-educated, middle class parents with ‘over-entitled’ children – spoilt – and they would have been told ‘yes, yes, yes’ to everything, but when they hit the age when their parent says ‘no’, they become manipulative and abusive.”

One delegate revealed that she dealt with so-called ‘out of control’ teenagers in Mayo, and that the majority of cases occur in ‘over-indulgent’ two-parent families.

NUI Galway lecturer, Dr Declan Coogan, began making efforts to address this issue in Ireland eight years ago, but found that this country was far behind Spain, which includes it in its legislation and has specific social services for this area.

One of his earliest cases here involved a 14 years old girl who was drinking, using drugs, going missing for long periods, and being aggressive towards her parents and siblings.

“Sinead and her mother went through the NVR programme; they had their blow-ups, but by the end of the process it was completely diminished, there was less abuse, and the mother had taken more control in the relationship, which benefited the whole family,” Ms Lauster said.

“The problem of violence in the family is openly talked about, and denial and minimisation are no longer issues, and the parent’s sense of isolation is reduced.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.