Teenagers abusing their parents not uncommon, experts say

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Only 14, James (not his real name) once ordered his parents out of the master bedroom so that he could sleep there.

He also physically assaulted his father multiple times.

James would also smash objects at home, and these episodes happened so frequently, police officers at the police station near their home have become familiar with the family, said his counsellor.

His father eventually had to take out a personal protection order (PPO) against the boy.

Counsellor Clinton Galistan said: "The parents had become hostage to the situation, and the boy controlled the family."

Such cases, where children are abusive towards parents or grandparents, are not as uncommon as some may think, experts told The New Paper.

Statistics from the Family Justice Courts showed that of the average 2,841 fresh PPO applications filed between 2014 and 2017, 8 per cent were by parents against children. This is double the 4 per cent filed by children against parents.

Earlier this week, The Straits Times reported how in 2016, a 16-year-old student armed himself with a steak knife and stabbed, slashed, punched and kicked his father when he refused to give him $2,000.

Now 19, he pleaded guilty in court on Wednesday to causing grievous hurt to his father.

Experts told TNP they are seeing more cases of children attacking their parents. And the children are getting younger.

According to statistics released by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) on Wednesday, the number of children whose parents had to resort to filing Beyond Parental Control (BPC) complaints against them was at a 10-year high last year.

There were 108 new cases last year - against 71 cases in 2016 and 85 in 2017 - and most of the complaints were against children aged 13 to 14.

Interestingly, between 2009 and 2017, most of the BPCs were taken out against girls. (See report on Page 4.)

Some of these cases have also escalated to the point where the parents live in fear of the child.

Psychologist Carol Balhetchet related a case where a mother of a 14-year-old was so afraid of him she did not dare return home alone. Instead, she would wait for her husband to finish work and go home with her.

Her son had physically attacked her more than once.

Mr Galistan, the director of justice and institutions at Lutheran Community Care Services, said cases of abusive children are common.

"The social paradigm and dynamic is changing, parents let their kids get away with a lot of things and at some point, the parents become a hostage to the situation," said Mr Galistan, who had been a senior prison officer and had worked at both prison school and Assumption Pathway School.

Dr Balhetchet said it could be something similar to "the little emperor syndrome", where parents overindulge their child or give in when the child throws a tantrum. This will lead to the child feeling like he should be getting his way.

"And in moments where the parents cannot control the child and lashes out or uses violence, the child learns that is how he can gain control," she added.

The problem of abusive children is not unique to Singapore.

The Daily Mail reported in 2017 that a UK-wide survey in 2016 by researchers One Pulse found three in 10 mothers claiming to have been physically attacked by their children.

The BBC also reported that in 2015, figures from the Crown Prosecution Service showed 2,549 teens aged 14 to 17 were prosecuted for a range of domestic abuse offences on family members and in-laws, an increase from 2,114 in 2013-14.

The youngest defendants were aged 10 to 13 and of these, 11 were convicted.

This article was first published in The New Paper. Permission required for reproduction.