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Former Park teacher dreams of documentary

Daryl Olson is a former Park High School speech teacher. (Bulletin photo by Patricia Drey Busse)

Through a book, speeches and hopefully a documentary, former Park High School teacher Daryl Olson is trying to educate the public about a form of abuse that he says is much more prevalent than people realize -- parent abuse.

Everyone knows about child abuse, said Olson, a former speech teacher, but few think about abuse going in the other direction, from child to parent. Olson said for the past 20 years, an average of one parent per day has been killed at the hands of their child in the United States.

"Parents being abused by their kids destroys the very fabric of our entire society," Olson said. "It's more dangerous than terrorism."

Olson, who retired from teaching in the mid-90s, spent "every cent" he had -- more than $100,000 -- to conduct a survey, pay researchers and cover the other costs of publishing a book on parent abuse in 2002. Since then, he's given speeches on the subject to crisis centers and he's hoping to get grant money to fund a documentary addressing elder abuse, parricide (parent murder) and bipolar children.

"Nothing is as important to the American public and society as this," Olson said. "We're woefully ignorant and we don't know it exists."

Parent abuse includes everything from a 16-year-old pushing his mom down the stairs to an adult stealing money from an elderly parent unaware of the theft.

"Parent abuse is more widespread than spousal abuse and child abuse combined because you've got somewhere between three and five million elder parents being systematically abused by their adult sons and daughters," Olson said.

On the other end of the age spectrum, Olson's book tells the story of a family from the Midwest that adopted a bipolar child who at age 4 told his mother and father he planned to kill them in their sleep.

Psychologists and school counselors are so uninformed about parent abuse, Olson argues, that many times the parents get accused of abuse themselves.

Olson -- who taught for more than two decades -- said he remembers that before the late 1970s, people were similarly unaware of child abuse. Once the issue came to the forefront through laws and media attention, the number of abused children dropped, he said.

Olson said he hopes his efforts can contribute to a similar drop. He said he must raise about $90,000 in funding to produce his documentary, but he's confident it will happen, because when people hear about parent abuse, they're interested. He recalled speaking to a group in Fergus Falls, that continued asking him questions until midnight.

"It showed me if you get the word out there, people will be concerned," he said. "It gives me more hope that a documentary will have an impact on this country."