Growing levels of concern from parents and carers experiencing aggression from their children

A new report from Parentline Plus reveals that a growing number of families are seriously concerned about their child's aggressive behaviour and specifically, their direct experience of physical violence and verbal abuse at the hands of their children.

The report, When Family Life Hurts: Family experience of aggression, calls for greater recognition and understanding of the type of support that embattled families need. The report highlights clear evidence that parenting support interventions are highly effective in turning escalating problems around and improving the wellbeing of both child and parent.

Over a two year period between June 2008 and June 2010, of the 83,469 calls made, 27% of callers were seeking advice from the charity’s helpline regarding their children’s behaviour with parents frequently reporting feelings of desperation, helplessness and shame.

  • Aggression and reporting of child-on-parent verbal and physical abuse is steadily increasing in number and intensity
  • Of the total calls relating to child behaviour, 62% of callers were seeking advice about their child’s verbal aggression and 31% concerned physical aggression
  • 88% of the callers concerned about their child’s aggressive behaviour were concerned about the aggression within the home environment
  • Where aggression was the main feature of the call to Parentline Plus, children were more likely to have emotional problems, poor wellbeing and/or mental health problems including depression, hyperactive, to self-harm, and low self-esteem. Parents calling about their child’s behaviour were also more likely than other callers to report poor mental health, including diagnosed depression, anxiety and stress
  • Mothers appear to take the brunt of their children’s aggressive behaviour, although it affects all family members
  • Contrary to public perception, the issue of parent’s experiencing aggression from their children crosses the gender divide. Boys and girls appear to be physically and verbally aggressive, in similar numbers, although boys are more likely to be physically aggressive
  • Aggressive behaviour is more likely to be acted out at home than at school or in other public places
  • Aggressive behaviour is reported in children of all ages, but peaks in children aged between 13 and 15 years old
  • Aggressive behaviour was also linked to higher incidences of involvement with the youth justice system, gang and weapon carrying, smoking, anti-social behaviour and children wanting to leave home

Parentline Plus identifies a series of key research findings to demonstrate the need for effective parenting interventions:

  • Serious and enduring childhood aggression can often be associated with conduct problems. Conduct disorders are the most common form of mental health related problems in children. Other factors include family conflict, divorce and separation and parental mental health**
  • There is a strong link with conduct disorder and poor parental mental health, deprivation and other risky behaviours such as drug taking***
  • Parentline Plus’s users report a significant unmet need in terms of statutory provision for these children and families. Independent research indicates that 60-70% of families with children and adolescents who experience clinically significant mental health problems have not been offered evidence based interventions early enough to prevent longer lasting negative impacts across their lives.****
  • Not intervening at the right time in the right way is at a huge cost in terms of wasted lives, educational attainment, criminal justice costs and other social and economic cost. The lifetime costs to wider society of the children diagnosed with conduct disorder or conduct problems has been estimated at around 60 billion a year.*****

Jeremy Todd, Chief Executive, Parentline Plus says: "The issue of children’s aggression, abuse and violence towards parents and other family members is a serious one and appears from Parentline Plus’s data to be a growing area of concern.

"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. Families who find themselves unable to cope with and manage their child’s physically or verbally aggressive behaviour need a range of advice and support. The stigma attached to abuse can prevent families from seeking help early, preventing the problem from spiralling out of control.

"We urge all parents and families who are battling with serious behavioural problems to seek support, for the sake of their children and their own wellbeing. Families looking for support can call Parentline Plus at any time of the day or night. We are concerned that there is a significant unmet need in terms of statutory support in this area. Children with, or at risk of developing, more serious problems such as conduct disorders, need the right intervention at the earliest available opportunity, otherwise the cost to the child and the family is a grave and tragic one, but it is one that is avoidable if the right support is made available".

Parentline Plus is not alone in identifying aggressive behaviour as a growing area of concern. Young Minds, a charity supporting families experiencing mental health problems report similar concerns.

Daphne Joseph, YoungMinds Parents Helpline Manager says: “Aggressive behaviour is often a symptom of either emotional or mental health problems and so getting help early through resources such as Parentline Plus and the YoungMinds parents helpline is vital.

"Calls about managing disruptive and aggressive behaviour are the most common concerns we hear. 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 daughters aggressive behaviour, so anonymous, professional advice from a helpline is much sought after.

"Getting help early can prevent problems from developing into long term serious conditions. Not only improving the futures of our young people but saving millions of pounds in terms of future costs to the NHS, social services and the criminal justice system.”

Parents concerned about verbal or physical abuse from their children can call Family Lives for support on 0808 800 2222, or via email or live chat.

Notes to editors

*Parentline analyses its data by short and long calls. Long calls are calls that go over a specified amount of time and which require emotional support for the caller. These calls are more likely to attain to difficult or complex issues.

**Centre for Mental Health (2009) The Chance of a Lifetime: Preventing Early Conduct Problems and Reducing Crime.

***New Philanthropy Capital (2007) Joy. I, van Poortvliet, M, Yeowart, C : Heads Up, Mental health of children and young people, New Philanthropy Capital/ Odgers CL, Caspi A, Broadbent JM, et al (2007) Prediction of differential adult health burden by conduct problem subtypes in males, Archives of General Psychiatry, 64, 476-484

****Colman I, Murray J, Abbott RA et al (2009) Outcomes of conduct problems in adolescence: 40 year follow-up of national cohort. BMJ, 338, a2981

*****Suhrcke M, Pillas D, Selai C (2008) Economic aspects of mental health in children and adolescents. In Social Cohesion for Mental Wellbeing among Adolescents. WHO Regional Office for Europe

247 parents responded to Parentline Plus’s online survey into aggression.