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.”
In another case, a mum 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, related psychologist Carol Balhetchet.
Parents live in fear of the child
Children abusing their parents or grandparents are not uncommon, 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.
Interestingly, between 2009 and 2017, most of the BPCs were taken out against girls.
And overall, most of the complaints were made against children aged 13 to 14.
Psychologist Carol Balhetchet said: “Girls are often more emotional and react to their emotions differently than boys.
“Girls tend to internalise and feel more intensely, while boys will often project outward, whether by playing computer games or running away from home.”
Mr Clinton Galistan, director of justice and institutions at Lutheran Community Care Services and former senior prison officer, told The New Paper it could also be that when girls mix with other girls, they could be more easily influenced by them.
But parents are never fully innocent
The experts said it was no surprise that children between the ages of 13 and 14 were more likely to act out.
Mr Galistan said: “At that age, they are going through many changes.
“From primary to secondary school, they are facing physiological change, along with increased pressure to perform in school and a desire to be validated and recognised by their peers.
“It is the age that with so much going on in their lives, if there is a lack of communication, they start to feel misunderstood and act out in different ways.”
Dr Balhetchet said this is the age where they discover they have a voice and feel emotions intensely.
She said: “They are starting to become socially and mentally aware and feel like they are adults.”
The experts added that the hormonal and physical changes can also escalate some of the stresses and emotions felt.
Mr Galistan said: “Often, when children are exhibiting behavioural issues, instead of supporting their emotions and understanding their needs, parents attempt to manage the behaviours, which leads to anger, misunderstanding and resentment.”
He added that because these children might not have the tools or language to express and process these emotions, they can manifest in silence and sullenness, which parents often react negatively to, compounding the problem.
He said: “When children have issues, the parents are never fully innocent.”
“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,” Mr Galistan added.
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.
How to prevent abusive behaviour in children
Experts said there are means to prevent such behaviour and victims should seek protection.
Parents should take time to communicate and explain their actions to the child. For example, should a parent lose his temper and lash out, he should explain to the child that violence or anger is not the solution, and apologise when necessary. Vulnerability and communication can be powerful tools in establishing a relationship.
Setting up boundaries
Parents should set up simple rules that family members follow to ensure fair and respectful behaviour towards each other. The rules should apply not just to the children but to the parents as well, for example, not raising their voices at each other.
Being a role model
Parents should be careful to exhibit a good example, including being respectful to others, including their spouse and service staff. Children are constantly watching and emulating their parents. If the parent exhibits disrespectful behaviour, such actions are often internalised by the child.
Manage exposure to social media
Parents should encourage open communication on the child’s Internet usage to ensure the child will seek their advice regarding content he might come across.
What to do if your child exhibit violence against you:
According to the Pave, which provides integrated services against interpersonal violence, some actions those who encounter violence can take include:
- Seeking help from specialist organisations or family service centres.
- Applying for a protection order.
- Applying for protection against harassment.
- Making a magistrate’s complaint at the State Courts to seek redress for an offence punishable by law.
A version of this article first appeared in The New Paper.