The Violent Parent

One in three principals have been
assaulted. This is being reported today on the ABC.  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-27/school-principals-attacked-by-students,-parents-says-acu-report/10850336

This is an unacceptable but sadly a growing
trend over recent years. The reasons for this are many and varied and it would
take a huge volume of research to fully reveal the causes of this rise. Here is
what I think needs to be looked at closely:

  • “My child doesn’t lie” is a
    belief that many parents have. The reality is that we all either lie or at
    least tell things in a way that puts us in a favourable light. Children are very good at
    this. In my experience, most issues parents have with a school are because
    their child has either lied, omitted information or exaggerated things. Parents
    need to understand that all children do this to some extent and start by trying
    to understand what actually occurred instead of taking their own child’s story
    as being 100% accurate.
     
  • There is a growing trend with
    the current generation of parents to be hyper-defensive of their child. Being a
    good parent has come under the spotlight in the past decade and parents are now
    feeling social pressure to be a good parent. A very visible way of doing this
    is to react when a perceived injustice has occurred.

  • Parents are sometimes poorly
    educated themselves or have a negative attitude towards schools or teachers
    from their own schooldays, and feel out of their depth when addressing an issue
    at school. One way to cover this feeling of inadequacy is to be verbally and
    physically aggressive.

  • Social media has a lot to
    answer for. In group chats and forums, people freely vilify others with scant
    evidence. The actions they freely promote are violent and aggressive. If a
    parent has posted an issue with a school, social media will often promote an
    unrealistically extreme response.

  • Reality television has a lot to
    answer for. The producers know that making a reality television show popular
    means they must go beyond the bounds of what are social norms and introduce
    more extreme behaviours. This is gets people watching. 
    Being confrontational, argumentative and openly hostile are promoted in
    these shows and the shows’ advertising.

    Research has demonstrated how powerful television dramas and reality shows are
    in providing a model of what acceptable behaviour
    is. The model reality television thrusts in front of today’s families is one
    that is saying you need to openly confront and be hostile.

  • Schools are also part of the
    problem. School structures and procedures are often poorly thought out and
    advertised so parents don’t have a clear and satisfactory process to follow. If
    a parent has a grievance that they consider to be urgent and important, there
    needs to be a clearly defined way that this can be addressed. The parent should
    never be in a position of feeling that they need to walk in to the school and
    simply confront a teacher or principal.

    Some schools will have procedures for this, but they often still lack some
    simple steps in the process which are vital to calming a situation down:

    • Whenever there is a potentially
      explosive issue, the school needs to insist that the parent have an advocate
      there with them. This provides a third calming voice to interpret and reason.
      If the parent has no advocate, the school should have some volunteers to call
      on who can help. Before the meeting, the advocate should sit with the parent to
      listen to their side of the story.

    • Parents need to feel that their
      issue is being addressed. I have not come across many schools that actively
      follow up parents after an issue has been raised to see that things have been
      resolved. This preemptive action goes a long way to making sure an issue does
      not escalate.

  • Governments and education
    departments also must rethink things. Parents find it difficult to resolve
    issues where a principal seems to be making a poor decision. The steps for this
    are obscure and difficult for parents to navigate. Given that they have tried
    to address an issue already and feel they have received no satisfactory
    response, it is not surprising that parents feel that assault is the only
    option open to them.

Do you have thoughts on this? Please add
your comments, but do not name any individuals or schools.

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