I have a friend, let’s call her Jane, who recently told me she dobbed her 11-year-old son into the cops.
We were the last ones standing after a catch up with some other school mums, and after ordering a round of espresso martinis it was confession time.
I confessed I’d actually been watering down my drinks all night because I’m a diabetic; and Jane confessed her 11-year-old son had been hitting her.
Now, I know this kid, Scott*; he’s very tall, and strong, and a total angel for his mum, who happens to be a sole parent. I know Jane has been very proud of him as the eldest child and a wonderful big brother. When she noticed her usually even-tempered kid had recently become prone to temper tantrums, Jane had put this down to normal pre-teen frustrations with friendship groups, schoolwork, and a need for independence.
But then, this gentle giant started to lash out at his mum. The first time was in the midst of an argument about homework before television. Scott punched his mum’s arm with such a force that her unsuspecting body almost lost its balance.
Listen: Mia Freedman talked to the incredible Rosie Batty about domestic violence. (Post continues after audio.)
Naturally, there was a ‘no television’ ban placed immediately, as well as a suspension of pocket money. Scott was mortified by his loss of control, and there were tears from both mum and son, with promises to never let it happen again.
Yet deep down, Jane began to truly worry; her instincts told her not to dismiss this as an isolated incident.
She was right – the second time came only 48 hours later, when Jane was punched in the back as she walked away from another argument. She sat her son down, explained to him that she had once left a relationship where her boyfriend had yelled at her and threatened to hurt her, and that what her son had done is called ‘assault’. As an adult, and even potentially as a child, Scott would be answerable to the law for such actions, so he needed to understand the gravity of what he was doing.
Scott began some sessions with the school counsellor to get to the source of his frustrations, and why he was choosing to take them out on his mum. But a couple of months later when the sessions ended, the arguments recommenced.
However, this time would be different. One night, as Jane saw Scott beginning to lose his temper, she explained that the next time she was hit, she would be taking Scott to the police and explaining that she had been assaulted. And the next day, when Scott tried to grab her arm to stop her from walking away from an escalating situation, she decided that was enough. She had to make her move before she was hit again and this behaviour became a pattern.
She told Scott that the police would be the next step. Image via iStock.
In the guise of needing to run an errand with him, she got Scott into the car; otherwise, physically, she couldn’t have made him. As it dawned on Scott where they were going, Jane just calmly said that he might be scared, but she would be there with him, and they were just going to talk to the police because he needed to understand the consequences if he continued to lash out against the woman who was closest to him. Because if they didn’t do this now, one day it could be his wife or girlfriend, who is potentially the mother of his children.
As Scott willingly got out of the car at the police station, and bravely presented himself at the counter with her, Jane knew all was not lost. He was scared, but he was taking responsibility. He didn’t want to be like this. He was genuinely remorseful. There was hope.
A tall sergeant loomed at the counter. Jane quietly introduced them and then spoke the most difficult words she’s ever spoken: “My son is a beautiful young man. But recently, he has started to hit me when he’s angry, and I thought that perhaps you could please talk to him about assault.”
The sergeant silently indicated that they should follow him and he took them into a meeting room. When they were seated, he said: “Son. You can’t hit people. If you keep doing that as you get older, you will end up in trouble with the law, even if you’re still at school. You especially can’t hit women and girls. Apart from self-defence, if you have been assaulted first, you should never answer an argument with your hands.”
Watch the latest domestic violence ad targeting young boys. (Post continues after video.)
The sergeant then went on to explain what potentially happens if you are ever charged with assault; arrest, bail or bail denied, the remand centre, hearings, sentencing, jail. He gave them information on the Family Violence Unit. The Unit’s page gives a brilliant, succinct, and easy to understand definition of domestic violence, which as the sergeant pointed out, includes violence “within a family across generations.”
So Jane knew she had done the right thing and was not over-reacting.
The sergeant’s final words moved her to tears. He said, “Son, let me tell you that your mother will always be your best friend. You will never have another friend like her. She will do anything for you. I see a lot of mums who don’t care about their kids enough to do what your mum has done today. You are very lucky to have a mum like this. Don’t ever hit her again or I will be talking to you alone.”
These amazing words rendered mother and son silent. Suffice it to say, this massive reality check has hugely impacted them both; for Scott, his temper is now rare and nowhere near as violent, because he catches himself before it starts, and his mother guides him to do that. And for Jane, she knows, if nothing else, at the very least, this was one thing she did right as a mum.
I was heartbroken for what she'd been through, but also so utterly impressed by her courage. Jane put her pride behind her parenting. She knew that she was committing her son to a lifetime of violence and dysfunctinal relationships if she did not make him understand the consequences of his actions. And thankfully, that sergeant did his job beautifully by backing her up with the facts.
Jane actually asked me to write about her experience. She wanted other parents to know that if they were going through something similar, this reality-check tactic seemed to get through when nothing else would, and before things went from bad to worse. Reach out to those around you, because it certainly takes a village to raise a child.