The mirror becomes an object that they cannot live without. They fall in love with their own reflection and believe that they deserve special treatment, becoming aggressive if they don't receive it. For the first time, a Spanish study carried out on 591 adolescents and their parents demonstrates that exposure to violence in the home, a lack of affectionate and positive communication between parents and children, and a permissive upbringing all create narcissistic adolescents who physically or verbally assault their parents.
Adolescents feel that they should have everything that they want, right here and now. They do not take no for an answer. When their parents try to establish limits, the children react aggressively. / Ellen de Vos
It is a taboo subject that is rarely discussed because it is not often admitted by parents and children, but it is the reality for many families: there are children and teenagers who assault their parents. Until now, there were few studies and explanations for the reasons behind this behaviour, but for the first time a new study has analysed the factors that lead to this violence from children to parents.
"On occasions adolescents assault their parents because the parents themselves have been violent towards the children or among themselves. Through exposure to family violence, children learn to be violent. Other times, it is the lack of affectionate and positive communication between parents and their children, the lack of quality time that is dedicated to the children, or permissive parenting styles that do not impose limits," affirms Esther Calvete, the main author of the study and a researcher at the University of Deusto, to SINC.
The work, published in ‘Developmental Psychology’, involved interviewing 591 adolescents from nine public and eleven private secondary schools in Vizcaya over the course of three years, allowing for analysis of the relationship between narcissism and aggression directed at parents by their children.
"In some cases we can observe that element of narcissism: it concerns adolescents who feel that they should have everything that they want, right here and now. They don't take no for an answer. When their parents try to establish limits, the children react aggressively," emphasizes Calvete.
The results demonstrate that exposure to violence during the first year of the study ended up in aggressions directed towards the parents during the third year. Similarly, a distant relationship between parents and children in the first year of the study was connected to narcissistic and an oversized self-image in the teenagers during the second year, with brought with it aggression towards fathers and mothers during the last year.
For that reason, according to the scientists, practices of education and upbringing are key. "If the parents do not raise their children with a sense of responsibility and respect, it is easy for the children to develop problems of aggressive behaviour. If the parents were violent when the children were small, it increases the risk of aggressive behaviour in children," the expert affirms.
But the behaviour displayed by fathers and mothers is not the only element. The temperament of the children is another important component, and some boys and girls are more impulsive and learn violent behaviour more easily," she adds.
These young people easily have the tendency to feel frustrated and rejected. When this occurs, first comes the yelling and insults, followed by physical aggression. "For that reason, when a father or mother perceives that that their son or daughter continually disrespects them, threatens them and scares them, it's a sign that they must act and ask for help," explains the scientist from the Department of Personality, Evaluation, and Psychological Treatment of the Basque university.
As an example, in the study the authors recount an email that a woman sent to Brad J. Bushman of the University of Amsterdam (Netherlands), co-author of the study. "Our son sees himself as above everything. The other night I told him that he should stop looking at himself in the mirror, that he looked good. And he hit the roof. His father later told him that he had no right to talk to me in that manner. But my son has become more and more verbally aggressive, and the situation has deteriorated into violence. He hit my husband, who is recovering from bruised ribs and a broken jaw. The problem is that he continues to think that he is right. According to him, it's he who feels threatened," the mother explained.
According to Calvete, aggressiveness - above all between 13 to 15 years old, a critical age - manifests itself with rage and uncontrolled behaviour, directed towards damaging the parents physically or psychologically. "Teenagers can also steal or break their parents' belongings," Calvete adds, who points out that there are no differences between boys and girls. "Although the statistics show that the problem is becoming more prevalent in girls."
Once aggressive behaviour has emerged in adolescents, treatment should be directed towards reducing the narcissistic view that they have of themselves. For that reason, the team suggests "education in respect and tolerance of frustration, and avoiding the exposure of boys and girls to violence."
"Think of all the cases of violence towards women. Boys and girls can be witnesses to violence. This learning is something that must be the object of intervention and prevention," concludes Calvete.
Calvete, Esther; Orue, Izaskun; Gamez-Guadix, Manuel; Bushman, Brad J.“Predictors of Child-to-Parent Aggression: A 3-Year Longitudinal Study” Developmental Psychology 51(5): 663-676 DOI: 10.1037/a0039092 2015
For media only:
If you are a journalist and would like to contact the researchers, please register as a journalist in SINC.