Campaigning in this field, one of the most frequent questions I am asked is, “Is it increasing?” whether from journalists, interested members of the public, friends, professionals or families themselves. I admit to finding this a struggle to answer. Without a proper baseline, how can we ever tell? Are you asking for solid evidence or an anecdotal and impressionistic response? The logical, social scientist bit of me screams in pain as I offer the answer “possibly, probably”.
Things that cannot / should not be used in evidence
- “Massive rise in children prosecuted for child to parent violence”. There are plenty of headlines like this. They tell us mostly that more people are choosing the criminal justice route in dealing with the issue, and that the police have developed a way of flagging this as a distinct problem.
- “Massive increase in parents seeking help for child to parent violence”. This tells us that perhaps more parents are seeking help, or perhaps more approaches for help are being logged in the system. It might be because of campaigns to raise awareness, or a more empathetic response from practitioners. It does not necessarily mean that more parents need help.
- “Many more referrals on my caseload”. See above. This may tell us that there is more than we thought there was, not necessarily that it is increasing as an issue. It may have been there all the time but for all sorts of reasons we conceptualised it in a different way: for instance understanding this now as “child to parent violence” rather than “behavioural issues”, or “poor parenting”.
What might be interesting though, as a way of charting the incidence of child to parent violence, is to look at some of the changes in societal issues with which it seems to be correlated (while I accept that these might also be over-reported for various reasons).
- Children and young people’s mental health.
- Children and young people’s substance use.
- Diagnosis of FASD and other ASD.
- Broader violence within the family and within wider society.
- Changes in the model of family life or parenting style????
- Materialism and consumerism at a time of austerity.
- Work-life balance / parental presence in the home / family stress.
- The use of technology????
- Models of out-of-family care.
- Patterns of migration and generational cultural conflict.
Then there is the need to look at other changes that might build resilience and offer protection against the use of violence and abuse. I’ll let you do the actual work here!
Eddie Gallagher, on his website, offers some thoughts about whether there is a genuine increase. He believes it is, and offers some reasons, but points out that it is a complex issue, as changes in society often bring both benefits and problems.
I was interested recently to come across an article in The Hindu by Mini Krishnan, titled You and your teenager: friends or foes? Mini writes as a publisher and editor, and describes her expertise as coming from personal experience of readers contacting her for advice (personal correspondence). She reminds us that the developments in society we currently see are happening not smoothly, with time to accustom ourselves and adapt, but exponentially, with huge changes from one generation to the next.
So, in conclusion, what do I think? I think that society has changed a lot in the last fifty years (for instance). I think these changes mean that families interact in different ways than they used to. I think that there are a lot more pressures on individuals and families from the way we organise society. I think there are a lot more people in the world. Is that vague enough for you?!