The Silent Suffering of Parent Abuse: When Children Abuse Parents
What Is Parent Abuse?
We have all heard of child abuse and how children are damaged by this terrible behavior, and you only have to Google "child abuse" to find page after page of information, support groups, and advice on this subject, but, how many people have heard of parent abuse? Especially at the hands of teenage children with serious social interaction and violence issues? Google it. You won't find much, except on a few support sites.
Parent abuse occurs when the child commits an act or acts against the parent through manipulation, control, and intimidation in order to exert control and have power over the parent. According to Barbara Cottrell in the book When Teens Abuse Their Parents, parent abuse can be defined as "any harmful act of a teenage child intended to gain power and control over a parent." Though it should be noted that children of any age (whether pre-teen or adult) can commit parent abuse, not just teenagers.
It's a growing problem for parents who share their home with abusive young people, and there is virtually no support. In both the UK and the US, the law is on the side of the child, not the parent, and that along with the stigma attached to it, make it difficult for parents to come out and admit abuse.
Parent abuse can take on many different forms, from physical, emotional, verbal, to financial abuse.
Spotting the Signs of Parent Abuse by a Teenager
Parent abuse is a form of domestic abuse and it is a serious problem which results in physical harm, depression, damage to property, job loss, and family breakdown. It is usually perpetrated by a child in their teens displaying the following behavior towards you and members of your family. Signs include:
- Threats of and/or physical violence including hitting, punching, kicking, pushing, slapping, biting, hair pulling with or without weapons or objects.
- Swearing and name calling
- A constant refusal to do what has been asked (going to bed, coming home, asking friends to leave, cleaning up after themselves, not attending school/college/work) or contribute to the household or participate in normal family activities.
- Bullying by text or phone
- Stealing money or property or misuse of parents credit cards/phones/computers
- Deliberate damaging of property
- Threats of or actual violence to pets or other children of the household as a way of intimidation
- Emotional blackmail
- Drug/alcohol abuse in the home
- Belittling parents in front of friends/other family members/public.
- Willful drug abuse in front of family/friends
- Other illegal activity
Many parents may recognize some of these signs as "normal" teenage behavior, but those suffering from parent abuse have experience physical harm resulting in medical treatment or even death, damage to property, theft, and bullying at the hands of their teenage children. This causes parents to lose confidence in themselves and it is debilitating for the child as the parent loses complete control over them.
Quite often, the child who is abusing the parent does it wilfully and for enjoyment, since the ability for empathy and compassion is not well-developed in the teenage psyche as they are dealing with anger management issues, psychological disturbances, and hormones. Not all teenagers turn on their parents, but there is an increasing number that are.
Since children have been made more aware of their rights as a child, it has prevented parents from administering chastisement and punishments traditionally used to control rowdy and unacceptable behavior. The law is always on the child's side, through legislation in child protection, but there is very little to protect parents from children who abuse their parents, and in the UK, as a parent, you are legally responsible for that child. In the US there is a similar system in place. This abuse expands into the realm of schooling as well, where students abuse their teachers and in other situations where an adolescent abuses an adult.
In most cases, Social Services are not interested, unless the child has a long history of repeated offenses of violence involving the police. Schools often permanently exclude teenagers with behavioral issues, but since there is virtually no support for these kids or their parents, they quickly turn to drugs and crime.
Parent abuse is not restricted to certain social groups; it can affect single and two-parent families equally. It is usually the mother (or the main caregiver) who is most affected, but other children in the family and fathers suffer too.
What Causes Teens to Abuse Their Parents?
Many people consider parent abuse to be the result of bad parenting, neglect, or the child suffering abuse themselves, but many teen abusers have had a normal upbringing and have not suffered from these issues. Other factors contribute to children abusing their parents, such as undiagnosed mental illness, which can cause the child to be unable to control their emotions. Additionally, if the child sees domestic abuse happen in the household, they will be more likely to continue such behaviors.
My personal belief is that as a society, we are not teaching our children respect, love, and care. We are allowing them to be subjected to violence on TV, film, and music, and violence is considered "normal." Drugs and alcohol can play a huge part, as can gang culture. Social deprivation is another factor, as is many teens not having adequate role models or enough input from male members of society. The breakdown of the family unit and the increasing number of children who have poor or nonexistent relationships with an absent parent, debt, unemployment, and parental drug/alcohol abuse are also contributory factors on parent abuse.
Psychological Effects of Parent Abuse
Parents who are exposed to abuse from a child are affected in many different ways, with many psychological issues as a result of the abuse. They can lose their ability to control the household and feel trapped with nowhere to go. Taking more serious measures against the child could result in Social Services taking the child away.
Loss of control and the inability to parent effectively are two major effects of abuse. This loss of control can bring up feelings of inadequacy as the parent feels that they have let down the family and that there is nothing they can do to remedy the situation.
Many parents feel that they are to blame for the child's behavior and are thus reluctant to seek help from anyone. Giving into the child's demands and abusive tactics only make the situation worse.
10 Steps for Dealing With an Abusive Child
Do not allow yourself to suffer in silence, take back control. You do not have to give your power away, and you can put a stop to this abuse.
- If you are suffering from parent abuse, you must recognize that you are not at fault and do not deserve this, as with any form of abuse. Speak to a friend, or contact a domestic abuse support group. Seek professional help.
- Calmly confront the child about their behavior and tell them in no uncertain terms that you will not tolerate it anymore. Explain that what they are doing is abuse ( be prepared for them to turn the tables on you and abuse you further) and explain that they need professional help. Re-assure them that you still love them, but this is the end of the line. Remove all privileges, rights to cell phones, computers, video games, money, etc. and refuse to be a taxi service. If they refuse to come home, report them as missing to the police and get them picked up in a squad car. Sometimes police intervention is enough of a wake-up call for them. Be careful, set boundaries and punishments and enforce them. If the child makes homicidal threats don't hesitate to call the police and get them a psychiatric evaluation.
- If you feel that you can still communicate with your child, seek mediation, and explain that you will not tolerate this behavior. Lay down some ground rules, and regain control of the situation. Take a hard stance and tell your child that if you are hit again, you will call the police and have them arrested. Don't call their bluff, do it. They need to see that you mean business. If your child physically harms you, steals from you, or damages property, involve the police immediately and PRESS CHARGES! It's tough love we are talking about here!
- Try not to retaliate by hitting back unless in absolute self-defense, and disarm them if they come at you with a weapon. Many abusers will ring social services to claim you have hit them, and the law comes down on their side every time. You will be prosecuted for hitting your child, and your child will be placed on an "at risk" register as will any other children in your household. They may even be removed, which can be good news if the offending child is removed but unfair for the siblings or for you. If in doubt and under threat of violence, call the police. Invariably, Social Services will not be interested at all, unless you are yourself a drug abuser/alcoholic or violent towards your child, in which case, they will put the child on the "at risk" register, and seek to remove the child for its own safety. See? No support for parents who suffer from appalling behavior from teenage children who are often physically bigger and stronger than the parent.
- Seek help from extended family and friends, and see if they can offer to give you respite by taking the child from you for a few days.
- Get in touch with Parentline Plus, a UK organization dedicated to helping parents with their issues. You can call them on 0808 800 2222. Visit their website and look on the message boards for help and support groups in your area. They often run groups which offer practical support and tips for parenting difficult teens. You can meet with other parents who are in the same boat as you and find support there. Additionally, in the US you can call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
- Approach your child's school and have your child referred to child and adolescent mental health services, or refer them yourself, informing them that you are suffering parent abuse.
- Keep a journal of events, with dates, times, etc., or a video diary, and film your child when they are abusing you (you can use your mobile phone or digital camera). Often, when faced with media of their own behavior, it can shock them into accepting help from professionals.
- Get therapy for yourself and your family.
- If none of these work, then the last resort is to do what is termed a "lock out." This is where you lock the child out of the home and refuse to allow them to enter. It's tough love, but you cannot continue to allow this behavior to go on without resolving it. You owe it to your child to teach them that abuse is unacceptable and that they will be excluded from the home if their behavior continues. This will cause Social Services to get involved so be prepared for that if you decide to take this step.
Resolving Parent Abuse
Hopefully, you found some strategies in this article to help you deal with abuse from your children. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and there are solutions that can stop the violence from continuing. Just stay strong and be vigilant.
Useful Links For Abused Parents
- Teenagers - Family Lives
Teenagers advice for parents from dealing with drugs and alcohol, communicating with your teen, truancy, pregnancy, university choices and more.
- BBC NEWS | UK | Move to tackle anti-parent abuse
Police are growing concerned about the rising trend of violence committed by children against their parents.
- BBC - Radio 4 Woman's Hour -Parent Abuse
Listen here for radio show about Parent Abuse
- When Teens Abuse Their Parents: Amazon.co.uk: Barbara Cottrell: Books
When Teens Abuse Their Parents: Amazon.co.uk: Barbara Cottrell: Books
- WOMENS AID DON'T SUFFER IN SILENCE FROM DOMESTIC ABUSE
Women's Aid Domestic Abuse website
- Welcome to Youngminds — YoungMinds
YoungMinds- website offering help and suport to parents and children with Mental health issues
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.