My Violent Child: the documentary.

First broadcast 18th June 2014 on Channel 5. Available until 13 June 2015

There has been a very mixed response to the documentary about child to parent violence screened on Channel 5 on Wednesday June 18th.

The programme followed three families from around the country, with boys ranging in age from 7 – 14 years. In each case the child had been physically and verbally abusive to his mother for many years and also, in some cases, to other members of the family or within school. The violence was extreme – and graphically depicted – including punching, kicking and hair pulling, strangling, property destruction and apparently an incident with a meat cleaver. While each family had found some form of assistance, it was made clear that this remains a problematic issue, with specialist support not easy to find, and at the end while some progress was being made, we were told that Brett’s mother risked losing the respite care that she had found so important.

The programme was not without moments of great poignancy, and phrases that stick with you as indicators of the desperateness of the situation.

I want to love him but sometimes I don’t like him.

You kind of become immune to it.

The unpredictability of a child who is prone to violence is often what’s most stressful to a parent.

I think Frank is my karma.

Parents do not need others to blame them. They often believe themselves to be at fault despite caring deeply and genuinely doing the best they believe they can do. Watching a one-off programme gives a poor sense of what it is like to live with this day in day out, including a lack of support in some cases from those you would most hope would understand.

While the comments on the programme website are largely sympathetic, from families who have personal experience of violence and abuse from children, twitter seems to have generated a more critical and blaming response. (Here for twitter storify.) Yes, there will be some families where there have been no discipline or boundaries put in place. But individuals who have known first hand the cruelty of being abused by their own child, point to the differential behaviour of siblings, the early trauma of adoptive children and the frustrations of a child with a mental health diagnosis or disability, rather than the parenting style as contributory to the uncontrollable and often unexplainable rages of some children; and the frustrations of being told to go on a parenting course or behaviour management when implementing everything they have learnt on such courses already. The lack of tailored support or real understanding by professionals is a constant theme.

It was a shame that there was not more focus on the support that is gradually developing in this country. The main focus was on the help from Southampton CAMHS but this was presented as one of the few centres in the country offering specialist help. The Respect programme got a single mention and there is a limited list of agencies on the website. While there is still a long way to go in making support accessible to families when and where it is needed, in Britain, there are more and more agencies undertaking training and starting to roll out groups for parents or families. It is noticeable from comments that the CAMHS service was considered to have been quite blaming of the parent. The three children featured were quite different and we need to acknowledge that one response will not be appropriate for all families. It is important that parents acknowledge their parenting responsibilities – which will continue – but this is very different to blaming them from all that has transpired.  In this case, the mother herself identified some issues that she could change. As was said, “Both child and parent will have to work hard to change their behaviour together”.

Has the documentary helped to move things on?

Certainly more people will now be aware of the issue of child to parent violence. Comments online reflect what we already know – that amidst the general silence on the issue, it can be reassuring to discover that you are not the only person affected. For me though, the cases highlighted, and the discussion around them, have tended to reinforce rather than challenge the notion that parenting style is the problem; and I would have liked to have seen more about the types of help that are increasingly offered to families.

Please do watch the whole programme to make up your own mind!



Filed under Discussion, TV

14 responses to “My Violent Child: the documentary.

  1. john smith

    The comments on the program’s website are mostly sympathetic because the Channel 5 PC police delete any/all dissenting posts. And it’s hard to give much of a dissenting comment without sounding mean or snarky in 147 characters.

    Why are the kids so abusive? Look at the fathers, or more to the point, the lack of them asserting ANY authority over the child whatsoever.

    Two out of the three families had a father figure involved, and only one of which actually was married to the mother. AND NOT ONCE did you see the step father intervene with the child. The other father was shown laughing about it as the child beat on his mother right next to him.

    There is no mystery of what is going on here.

    Hopefully enough people see n agree with my post before the PC police delete it. Hmmm, maybe someone doesn’t want their “documentary” unveiled for the BS it really is….

    • Hi John
      Although I do not agree with everything you say, I do accept that your views are widely held. Your comment that one of the fathers was shown laughing and not intervening at all is very fair. I do not though accept your implied assertion that all the children needed was a stable father figure. Many, many children live in happy and successful single parent households. Many, many children live in unhappy two parent households. Children do need consistency, love and boundaries.
      Many of us who work with families in this situation found the programme difficult because of the narrow interpretation of the events and the little support actually shown. Parents experience violence from their children for a whole variety of reasons – one of which may be inconsistent parenting – but it is an incomplete explanation to suggest that parents are always to blame. There is always a back-story, and it has been found to be more helpful to understand this, than to blame and shame individuals who are then less likely to ask for help.
      I am sure you will join me in hoping that, as a result of the programme, more parents will realise that they do not have to put up with this sort of abuse, and will come forward for the help needed to restore healthy family relationships.

  2. janesherwin

    Hello Susan, I have not watched the documentary because, as a fellow parent who has suffered child on parent abuse, I just find these shows too upsetting if blame is placed on parents who are often doing a fantastic job in extremely difficult situations. My daughter is now ten years old and her violent behaviour is now virtually nil. However this was not achieved by discipline or firm boundaries. This type of approach simply made her more explosive, withdrawn, depressed and harder to reach. We instead developed strategies and provided her with an environment that reduced anxiety and sought to reduced and tackle the triggers for her outbursts rather than trying to simply ‘stop’ the outbursts. She was diagnosed with ‘Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome’ when she was 7 at the Elizabeth Newson Centre in Nottingham. She had previously been diagnosed with Asperger’s but this diagnosis just never seemed to fit. Due to a different approach she is now positively thriving. Her outbursts stemmed from high anxiety based around not intuitively understanding how to navigate the social highway. Individuals with PDA have the same level of autistic like traits as other individuals with a more typical ASD presentation. However these can present in an Atypical manner and they also have difficulties with anti social behaviour and callous and emotional traits as individuals diagnosed with conduct problems and ODD. However they also have unique features that differentiate them from each of these groups. PDA is rapidly gathering pace and recognition as a definable ASD sub group within its own right. Identification is crucial because the successful strategies for these groups are very different for those that are successful for typical ASD or ODD/Conduct Problems. Recent published research conducted at ‘Kings College’ London is refining and clarifying these facts. I have also had a book accepted for publication by JK publishing. Perhaps my blog would be of interest to you. I am advocating for the recognition, support and correct approach for these individuals and their families. I am also friends with an adult diagnosed with PDA when she was 13 by the founder of PDA Professor Elizabeth Newson. Her insight into how these children and adults feel and process the world is invaluable. Thank you for a lovely and sensitive article. You are obviously one of the rare and much sought after professionals who genuinely care and do not judge.

    • Thank you for your comments and the link to your blog. It is very helpful to hear from families who have experienced first hand the difficulties of finding help or understanding. The programme gave a very one sided image of family dynamics and I fear that it will have put some people off seeking help even more. It is good to hear that you are bringing greater awareness to the issues that you have identified and found ways round.

      I often find myself in discussions about whether we should be using the term ‘violence’ or ‘abuse’ to describe the issue and I would be interested in your view. ‘Violence’ seems to exclude certain behaviours that are emotionally or verbally abusive; and yet, because of physical or mental conditions, some children may use violence in a way that is not intended to control or harm.

      Very best wishes, Helen

      • janesherwin

        I think the term ‘Abuse’ more accurately describes the situation that I was in because my daughter was physically violent but the verbal abuse was more damaging to me than being hit by an eight year old was. Also the control that she excerpted over me I found abusive because it affected me mentally. Simply using the term ‘violent’ doesn’t, I feel, cover all of the other stuff that was going on that was simply crushing me mentally. I still have the mental scars now and I think that I always will. My daughter did used violence to control her environment but not to intentionally harm me. She was simply in self preservation mode. She needs full control of her immediate environment and the people in it or her increasing anxiety levels with send her into meltdown. During meltdown she has no control over her own behaviour she is in free fall. Because PDA is an ASD her lack of empathy at an emotional level meant that she had no idea why her behaviour evoked such strong reactions in others or how the abuse actually felt to the other person. To her the world was odd and she was normal but always getting into trouble, being told off, being made to be normal like everyone else, which she simply couldn’t rather than wouldn’t do. Just imagine how confusing the world must seem to these individuals. PDA is increasingly recognised in more and more areas as a definable ASD sub group. Unfortunately many individuals don’t access the correct understanding or strategies due to many local authorities refusing to recognise PDA until it is in a diagnostic manual. This is so frustrating because PDA is the only profile that accurately describes these individuals and the only diagnosis that accurately points parents to the correct diagnosis, support & understanding. The only reason why I now live with a happy, thriving and non violent child is because PDA gave me the understanding, strategies and awareness. My daughter at age ten now also has self awareness, understanding of why she is different and she is learning to understand empathy at an intellectual level so that she is aware of why she may need to moderate her behaviour. Sorry to waffle on but why other professionals won’t take this concept on board simply baffles me.

      • Thank you. Your input to the discussion is helpful and I will pass on your comments.

      • janesherwin

        Your welcome 🙂

  3. I write a blog about my daughter who is 6 and has a diagnosis of ASD-PDA.
    Yes my daughter CAN be violent, a social worker came to my house only
    2 weeks ago and though not understanding her condition incited a meltdown by not listening to me and what works for my daughter, in which I was bitten 3 times, punched and kicked.
    Having the right input from professionals and using the correct strategies make all the difference.

    I felt the CAMHS worker was a little heavy handed and showed little knowledge and did not praise the strategies the mother of the 9 year old boy was using that worked.

    With the 7 year old- video games don’t make children violent but they won’t help, and the family laughing at the mother being assaulted also wouldn’t help. He is a completely different case to the 9 year old.

    There ISNT enough out there.

  4. Kate Burton

    The programme could have done more to stop the blame.being put upon the parents,as many of us know kids on the asd spectrum with or with out PDA traits have high anxiety levels which often mean that they are violent. Many of us end up living our lives around this,and either lose out or end up being beaten up. Most of these children/young people do not respond to normal parenting techniques,and it is very challenging to find a way that works. It did show however that support varies across the country. And just how difficult it can be to get help and support that doesn’t blame the parents.

    • Hi Kate
      Thank you for your comments. As you say, Support very much depends on where you live. A group of us are working to provide better guidance to professionals; and so I hope that it will soon be the case that more people are aware of the issues at least.
      Best wishes, Helen

  5. martsan

    Hi there, does anyone know if there is a list of L.A.’s who do recognise PDA? I appreciate that this is quite an old thread, but hopefully someone is still watching it!! I have been convinced for over 2 years that my son had PDA, but his diagnosis says Asperger’s. When I first asked about the possiblilty of PDA, not only was the suggestion immediately dismissed, but I was made to feel quite silly for suggesting it. I am currently preparing to launch an all out PDA offensive on my local camhs, so information on the state of play for PDA within L.A.’s in general wouldbe helpful

    • I wonder whether you have tried any of the PDA websites? There is growing awareness and expertise and I imagine they would be the best place to find the information you require if it exists. When you google PDA there are quite a number of possibilities. Best of luck!

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