What you need to know if your child is abusive
Last week, The Australian brought attention to a domestic violence issue rarely talked, or perhaps even known, about: the issue of children being the perpetrators of violence against their families.
According to a Women's Health and Family Services report, in Western Australia alone, more than 2,000 adolescents between 2009 and 2014 were charged with some sort of violent act against either a parent, carer or siblings, reported The Australian.
But the number of child perpetrators is thought to be even higher than that, with many parents thought to be holding back from reporting their children to authorities out of fear of judgement and being labelled a bad parent.
Offences ranged from assault, sexual assault, taking away someone's personal freedoms, threatening behaviour and robbery.
Human behaviour expert, Patrick Wanis, says children are likely to fall into a cycle of abuse for a variety of reasons.
They have been abused themselves
Wanis says that children who become violent were perhaps victims of violence themselves. "Many children are already growing up in families and environments of violence, i.e. they themselves were victims of violence or they have witnessed violence within the family and, accordingly, they learn to express and respond with violence," Wanis says. "They repeat what they see and what they experience — violent behaviour. Hostility and constant conflicts within the family can also lead to violent behaviour by the children."
Their needs are not being met
Anxiety and mental health issues could be contributing to the problem, too. "Many children suffer from mental health problems — depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse problems and anxiety disorders — but are not receiving adequate help, if any at all," Wanis says.
The child feels shamed and insecure
"The primary psychological cause of violence is shame. In other words, these children experience feelings of being disrespected, demeaned and debased. Feeling insignificant and worthless leads to feelings of shame that then trigger anger and then violence. Children also need to be adequately taught to understand and regulate their emotions, as well as their responses to their emotions."
A male role model is missing from their lives
Having a strong male role model can make all the difference, says Wanis. "I have worked with children who became violent because they lacked a strong male figure, felt rejected by their father and were full of self-loathing, as well as hatred for the world."
So, what can be done if a child does become violent?
- Early intervention and reeducation: Wanis says that it is important to realise early that there is a problem. "Early intervention refers to programs that recognise quickly that children are being raised in a setting of abusive, hostile and negligent parenting. Early intervention also refers to programs and specific help for children suffering from mental health problems, as well as hostile or abusive situations."
- Keen observation: Parents have to be aware of the child and their actions and look out for signs that they need support. "Parents need to be observant of their child's behaviours — depression, isolation, anger, aggressiveness and acting out are all signs of potential violent behaviour."
- Community support: It doesn't just come down to the parent, though. Each of us has a responsibility to ensure children are safe. "Each one of us needs to be observant of children who might be living in hostile, neglectful or abusive homes. Intervening early and rescuing the child from such situations can prevent the cycle of domestic violence and prevent the child engaging and participating in that cycle as an instigator or perpetrator of the violence."
Victims or survivors of family violence can contact 1800Respect, a national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service, on 1800 737 732, or via the online counselling portal at 1800respect.org.au.