No Choice to Walk Away: When the Domestic Abuser is Your Child
There are days when Sally*, a single mother of two living in Melbourne’s outer suburbs, doesn’t want to go home from work. She’ll drive around dreaming up errands to run, or come home and just sit in her garage for an hour or two, because she doesn’t want to walk in the door and confront the abuse she’s expecting to receive from her teenage son, Ben*.
“He will smash things, break things, throw things around,” she says. “He will call me a c—. Just sort of trying to get him to hang the washing out or get him to go to bed at a certain time, he doesn’t want to listen to anything. He will just attack me non-stop, you know, ‘you f—ing useless c—, you don’t give a f— about us, you’re a lazy f—ing bitch’.”
Sally left Ben’s verbally abusive father almost a decade ago. But her son, who only started behaving this way towards her after a court ordered him to start regularly visiting his father again, is still a child. And Sally remains responsible for his care.
“It’s so much easier when it’s a partner and so forth, because as an adult you can make those choices, you can say ‘OK, this is not how I’m going to live. I can walk away from this’; when it’s your children, you don’t have those choices,” she says.
Although she feels isolated in her predicament, Sally is far from alone. The little research available on adolescent domestic violence offenders suggests the numbers are significant, though under-reported, and are rising at about the same rate as adult-perpetrated domestic violence.
In NSW, domestic violence incidents involving juvenile offenders make up about 5 per cent of the total incidents reported, but anecdotal evidence suggests most parents will only engage authorities in desperation and as a last resort.
Last year’s Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence found about two-thirds of juvenile offenders were male, and 80 per cent of victims were their mothers.
Adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg says he is concerned about a connection between violence against mothers and a broader trend of growing disrespect among young males.
“I’m seeing more kids who are essentially lazy, self-absorbed, disrespectful, ungracious and very contemptuous, particularly of women and particularly of mothers,” he says.
He’s just published a book on the phenomenon, which he calls the “Prince Boofhead Syndrome”, and blames it largely on a culture of entitlement that parents are unwittingly contributing to by trying to shield their children from adversity.
“Their life is just one giant personalised all-singing, all-dancing, 24/7 catering service,” Carr-Gregg says.
“They’re never challenged, there’s no consequences for their bad behaviour or bad decisions, and the parents… don’t set any limits or boundaries.”
This article was originally published by the Brisbane Times.