Charity reports increase in verbal and physical attacks as poverty adviser Frank Field calls for schools to teach parenting skills
Children are increasingly likely to attack their parents both physically and verbally, a leading charity warns today.
Parentline Plus has received an astonishing 22,537 calls in two years from mothers and fathers struggling to cope with their aggressive offspring. Almost 7,000 spoke of incidents of physical abuse. The figures are revealed in a report by the charity today. When Family Life Hurts claims that the number and intensity of attacks is on the rise – and that mothers take the brunt of the aggression. The study cites aggressive behaviour at all ages, but says it peaks in children aged between 13 and 15.
The alarming statistics have come to light as Frank Field, the government’s poverty adviser, called for children to be taught in school how to be good parents. The Labour MP will take proposals to Michael Gove, the education secretary, this week setting out how such skills could become part of the national curriculum. “It is now more difficult to raise children than it ever was – but nobody ever teaches you about parenting. It is assumed that by osmosis people will know what to do, but they don’t,” said Field. The politician, who is carrying out a review on poverty and life chances for the coalition government, claimed that there was little focus on parenting skills in prenatal or postnatal sessions.
Teaching pupils how to be good parents would “curtail this huge guilt industry”, he added. The MP will take the idea to Gove along with Kathy August, the principal of Manchester Academy and deputy chief executive of the United Learning Trust, which runs academies.
“We are proposing a more subtle approach than having a block of time to teach parenting,” said August. She has put together plans of how parenting could be incorporated into different subjects. “In English, pupils could study different novels with contrasting parenting styles; in foreign languages, they could learn about different customs; and in science, they could learn about child development.” She also suggests using tools in media lessons, such as studying plot lines from soap operas.She gave the examples of Becky McDonald in Coronation Street, who wants to adopt her tearaway sister’s child, and Tanya Byron’s The House of Tiny Tearaways.
Parentline Plus agreed that parents needed more support. “While aggressive outbursts are a normal part of a child’s development, many of the families we are in contact with are dealing with much more serious and entrenched problems,” said Jeremy Todd, its chief executive. The study suggests that lone mothers are at greatest risk. Todd claimed that many children were suffering with undiagnosed disorders.
Sandra Woods, 38, from Stevenage, felt completely isolated when her son, Jamie, starting behaving aggressively at the age of two. She went to her GP and spoke about him lashing out at her and the house, but was told he was a spoilt child. It was only years later, when her son turned nine and the violence had got “out of hand” with biting and scratching, that Jamie was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He was given medication and now is far calmer and has a close relationship with his mother.Woods said that parents should seek support and keep going.
Daphne Joseph, a parents’ helpline manager from YoungMinds – a charity that tackles mental health issues in young people – said: “Calls about managing disruptive and aggressive behaviour are the most common concerns. A quarter of these are about young people who are violent towards their parents. Parents can often feel desperate and ashamed about their son or daughter’s aggressive behaviour, so anonymous, professional advice from a helpline is much sought after.”