No earthly culture condones parental abuse. Across the globe, the word “taboo” resonates every time it’s mentioned (ask Google). Many moons ago, I would have argued that children didn’t abuse their parents. To me we were only “stubborn” at times, not abusive. Growing up in a predominantly Christian part of Nigeria, most of us were ruled by the biblical 5th commandment. The commandment informed our attitudes towards our parents. We grew up with it etched in our brains. From an early age, we recognised that our parents deserved our utmost honour. The consequences of daring to deviate from the norm were too dire to tempt. Even as teenagers, when our hormones edged us towards rebellion, most of us remained within the “respect spectrum”, in dealing with our parents. They ensured that!!! It was an abomination to abuse them and surely, we didn’t want to die!
Some of my friends still argue that parental abuse is extremely rare, especially in Africa. It’s widely believed that since corporal punishment is an acceptable disciplinary measure in Africa, children would not dare abuse their parents. To them child-to-parent abuse only happens in the western world, where physical punishment is not acceptable. As soon as parental abuse is mentioned, the first thought voiced is: “African kids may be stubborn, but not abusive to their parents.” However, now that my interpretation of abuse is totally different, I challenge the validity of using “stubbornness” as an euphemism for parental abuse.
Let’s look at Mandy, she is a single mum who lives with her teenage son Ayo. She works really hard to provide for him. Ayo physically assaults her. Whenever he’s angry, he beats her up. Mandy is very scared of Ayo. When asked, Mandy says that Ayo is “stubborn” because he misses his dad. Previously, I would have accepted “stubbornness” as the sole explanation. Now I see obvious elements of physical abuse. Her being scared of him spells emotional abuse.
Whist there are clear aspects of parental abuse in Ayo’s case, some may not see parental abuse in the case of Daniel and Tracey’s daughter Lucy (17). Recently, Lucy’s behaviour changed. She became very aggressive. She expects her parents to drop everything to meet her needs. Sometimes she threatens to kill herself if they refuse. On one occasion, she threatened to jump from their first floor window if Daniel didn’t buy her a particular dress. Tracey attributes Lucy behaviour to learned “stubbornness” from peers. To the contrary, I see emotional abuse from an obviously disturbed girl.
On the other hand, Michael’s son David (18) steals from him. Once, he stole his mum’s bank cards and spent N100,000 buying clothes. He often goes into a rage, and shouts abusive words at his parents. He had an accident a few weeks ago in Michael’s car, which he took without permission. Parents conclusion? David is “stubborn”. My professional view…clear case of financial, emotional, and verbal abuse from David to his parents.
Surely, stubbornness is not a suitable euphemism for parental abuse, although it is a contributory factor. If those behaviours were between partners or spouses, early diagnostics and subsequent conclusions would have since been drawn.
The most important step in tackling parental abuse is acknowledging that it occurs. It is a form of domestic violence! It happens everyday! Basic challenges underpinning difficulties in developing interventions, are the ignorance and silence surrounding parental abuse. Intrinsically, parents protect their children. So when parental abuse occurs, they feel a sense of isolation, stigma and shame. In a country like Nigeria, this is exacerbated by the lack of governmental and societal recognition of it.
Interestingly, most published interventions on parental abuse stem more from psychological thoughts than medical. Exceptions are in cases where conditions such as ADHD, and certain mental health disorders are diagnosed. Then, medical interventions may be required. Most frameworks found, suggest looking at socio-environmental factors around the child. Example, children who grew up in homes with domestic violence, may resort to treating their parents in the same way. Some other factors include: sexual abuse, peer pressure, mental illness, drug abuse, and single parent homes. Psychological evaluations and support of the child are also lines of intervention. ‘Lucy’ disclosed to a counsellor that she was raped by a family member, and it changed her whole being. She is still receiving the support she needs. If lives are at risk, it advised that the police be called.
Parental abuse also called child-to-parent abuse is very common. The recognition of it is nuanced by societal expectations of children. Adolescents (10 to 19 years) are more likely to abuse their parents. In this age range, children float between life as children and being accepted as adults. Some assert themselves by abusing others, depending on the socio-environmental factors surrounding them. Whilst it’s universally accepted that domestic abuse is wrong; it is difficult to ignore the slow acceptance of children’s abuse to parents. I acknowledge that societal perspectives are starting to permeate the existence of parental abuse, yet, coveted reactions or conscious denial, still underpin the recognition of it. In some cases, it is ignorance.
Being a mother of adolescent children, I’ve had my share of hormone-filled “you don’t get it mum” attitude. I’ve seen adolescents test parents patience and exhibit behaviours in which “stubborn” would be the word of choice. However, unearthing parental abuse is important. Nothing beats early intervention. If you are going through it, try having a dialogue with the child. Sometimes, such behaviours is a cry for help. Seek psychological evaluations. Find out available support organisations. Most importantly, have a self-evaluation and decide if the initial change should come from you.
If you are a victim, or know someone going through parental abuse in the UK, please contact any of the following:
The National Domestic Violence Helplines Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge – 0808 2000 247 All Wales Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Helpline – 0808 80 10 800 Scottish Women’s Aid Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 027 1234 Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland 24 Hour Domestic and Sexual Violence Helpline – 0808 802 1414
Info Sources are:
Image: Google Images
Home Office Information guide: adolescent to parent violence and abuse (APVA)
Wilcox, P. (2012) Is parent abuse a form of domestic violence? Social Policy and Society 11(2):277-288.
Home Office (2013). ‘Domestic violence and Abuse’, Available at: https://www.gov.uk/domestic-violence-and-abuse, (accessed 19th February 2014).
Condry and Miles (2015) Uncovering Adolescent to Parent Violence (Palgrave). 4 Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
Holt, A & Retford (2013) Practitioner accounts of responding to Parent Abuse – a case study in ad hoc delivery, perverse outcomes and a policy silence, Child and Family Social Work, 18 (3), 365-374.