Yet another face of domestic violence

In one Ohio county, the number of teens charged with the crime -- against their parents -- is up by almost 60 percent.

Published September 6, 2006 6:55PM (EDT)

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer: More and more young people, girls as well as boys, are being charged with domestic violence -- not against their partners, but against their parents. In Ohio's Cuyahoga County, "the number of teens charged with domestic violence has increased by nearly 60 percent in the past decade," reports the Plain Dealer. "As a result, more kids sit in detention for abusing a household member than for robbery, assault or drug dealing." In fact, these kids make up 20 percent of those held in detention -- even as other violent teen crime appears to be dropping.

"Researchers [unidentified by the paper] place the instances of children abusing parents -- physically, mentally or emotionally -- as high as 18 percent in two-parent homes and 30 percent in single-parent homes," says the Plain Dealer, putting the statistics in a national context. "Unlike other juvenile crimes, domestic violence does not occur mainly in urban or impoverished families. The secrecy and shame allow it to flourish in middle- and upper-class homes, as well."

What's going on? Are kids more spoiled, more violent, when they don't get their way? Is hitting the new whining? Blame as we might the undeniable glorification of violence in society and the media, it is, of course, more complicated (and arguably less juicy) than pointing a single finger at, say, Crank, and leaving it at that. Some experts say parents are doing more reporting; others say authorities are doing more prosecuting (as opposed to sending kids and, hello, their families, to counseling). (Factors similar to the foregoing are also often cited -- though not often enough -- somewhere in the fine print of all those articles about "Scary! Girls! Gone! Violent!")

Still others say police are confused about a state law compelling arrests in cases of domestic violence -- a welcome alternative, I'm guessing, to the practice of getting a batterer to "cool off" and leaving the victim in danger, peace supposedly made -- which was later amended to say juvenile domestic violence arrests are discretionary. One expert also suggests that kid-on-parent violence is an example of the 1960s "children's rights" movement gone too far; the paper drops that minibomb without comment.

Given more airtime are the comments of juvenile public defender Salvatore "Sam" Amata, who thinks (paraphrase) "experts might be overthinking the problem." Are out-of-control kids taking over? No, he says, noting that it's against the law for kids to hit their parents, but not the other way around. And thus, in what may actually be "mutual combat" situations, it's easier for police to eenie-meenie-arrest the kids. And it' s easy to blame the kids or "society" for the violence, he says, when, from where he sits, it's so often the parents who lack skills and support.

Whatever the "real" reasons these kids are in trouble, various agencies are at work on alternatives to court or rubber-stamp sentencing: safe spaces for cooling down and counseling, interventions for the entire family. Sounds about right to me. Really, no, it's not OK to hit your mama. But if there's any place where, arguably, kids won't learn to "use their words" instead, I'm thinking it might be the juvenile justice system.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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