The Australian media have offered considerable coverage of child to parent violence and abuse over the last year, as conferences have taken place, reports have been published, or police figures made public. But the most recent piece, about this in the Sydney Morning Herald, was more disappointing in depicting an inevitable new world order of weak, ineffective parents and controlling, over-entitled children. Testimony from parents was matched by commentary from psychologists and educators, all stressing the changing environment and culture that young people grow up in today, and predicting mental health problems to come as this generation matures to adulthood.
Sons are smashing windows, furious they’re asked to stop playing computer games. Doors are hanging off hinges having been slammed so hard in a fit of pique. Teenagers are holding knives to their mother’s throat, or threatening to kill themselves.
This is the pointy end of entitlement, the defining characteristic of this generation of children.
“It’s the end result of giving kids everything they want,” psychologist Judith Locke explains. “Tough love is really being called for, but we’ve got a generation of parents who are much less inclined to do this.”
Eager to deliver the perfect childhood, parents are emotionally and materially indulging their children. Boundaries are rarely enforced and consequences aren’t imposed by parents who want to be their child’s friend. Kids who grow up expecting attention and success are so accustomed to getting what they want that they don’t know how to cope when they don’t.
So sure, this is the experience of some families. Eddie Gallagher used the idea of over-entitled children over ten years ago in journal articles to explain the contributing issues in some families with whom he worked (while also pointing out that prior experience of domestic violence was by far the biggest predictor). We are familiar too with the term “helicopter parenting”; other countries talk about Hockey Moms or Smother-mothers. The narrative is that children and young people who have been given everything they have needed or asked for, and more, will be ill-equipped to respond to disappointment in their lives and so use violence and abuse to demand their “rights” when thwarted.
What we also know though is that this is only part of the story, and that many many families experience violence and abuse from their children for completely different reasons. In response to coverage such as this, Jo Howard goes some way to setting the record straight in a recent post on her Linkedin page. She highlights the influence of past experience of trauma such as domestic violence, of poverty, and gender stereotypes, as well as the fact that for some families the violence seems to come out of nowhere.
It is good to have the coverage, but disappointing that in this case the overwhelming tone was one of blame and gloom, doing nothing to encourage parents to seek help or to foster greater understanding among the wider public.