Domestic violence from your teenager: children can abuse parents too
A recent study has found that during a one year period, there were nearly 2,000 domestic violence cases in London where a teenage child abused a parent. Rarely discussed and often misunderstood, this very real phenomena is particularly difficult to analyse, as many parents are too scared to come forward for fear of the repercussions for their families.
Here, Dr Caroline Miles, one of the authors of the study, explains why this issue is so rarely discussed, and what parents can do if they become their own children’s victims.
Do have a read, and share your thoughts or experiences on the thread below.
Co-author of study into APV
Posted on: Mon 23-Dec-13 12:20:21
(18 comments )
Violence and abuse from children towards their parents is not a new phenomenon. Practitioners working with families in a range of capacities are all too familiar with reports of parents experiencing violent assaults, verbal abuse and damage to property at the hands of their adolescents. Due to a large degree of social stigma surrounding this problem and a lack of official recognition of adolescent to parent violence (APV) however, it has remained a silent form of family abuse. The lack of awareness and understanding surrounding APV has been reflected in a lack of policy, training or guidance for practitioners on how to respond to and adequately support families with often complex needs.
In recent years a body of research has begun to emerge affirming the prevalence of adolescent to parent violence and the serious impact it has on families.
In our three year research study Dr Rachel Condry and I examined police data on this form of domestic violence and conducted interviews with police, youth justice workers, practitioners and families. Our research revealed that over a one year period (2009-2010) across London, there were 1,892 cases of adolescent to parent violence reported to the Metropolitan police, mostly from sons towards their mothers: 87% suspects were male and 77% victims were female. Sadly, this is likely to represent the tip of the iceberg, as parents are extremely reluctant to report violence from their children to the police for fear of the consequences.
Disclosing violence from a child is one of the most difficult steps for a parent - they describe feeling a great sense of shame and guilt, and they also fear the consequences of reporting. Parents worry that they will be blamed for the violence, or that their victimisation will not be taken seriously. Conversely, they also fear that their child will be criminalised or taken away from them. When they do report violence to the police or another agency, they face many unknowns: the lack of recognition of adolescent to parent violence means there is no policy on how to respond and, often, a lack of understanding.
Disclosing violence from a child is one of the most difficult steps for a parent - they describe feeling a great sense of shame and guilt, and they also fear the consequences of reporting. Parents worry that they will be blamed for the violence, or that their victimisation will not be taken seriously.
For many parents in our study, aggressive or challenging behaviour from their children evolved from a young age, and increased in intensity during adolescence. In some cases, children experienced difficulties at school and one of the biggest challenges described by parents is simply getting their violent son or daughter to school against their will, often with the threat of prosecution hanging over the parent.
Other potential triggers for violence include parents trying to lay boundaries, intervening in arguments between siblings, or simply saying ‘no’ to their child. Many parents referred to ‘walking on egg-shells’ in order to avoid conflict - and some parents had gone as far as locking themselves in their bedrooms or leaving the house to stop an argument escalating into violence.
The levels of violence experienced by parents in our study varied enormously, but tended to involve a pattern of aggression and violence over a period of time which led to parents being afraid of their child and, often, feeling controlled. In addition to verbal threats and abuse, parents described being kicked, punched, pushed or strangled, and they also reported extensive criminal damage to the home. For many parents, damaged furniture and multiple holes in doors and walls are highly problematic - they have financial implications, and often leave parents feeling even more isolated, unable to invite friends and family into their home.
We found no single or straightforward explanation for adolescent to parent violence: there appear to be many complex pathways, including learning difficulties, mental health problems, alcohol or drug use; and childhood experiences of domestic violence, sexual abuse, or parental substance abuse. But for some families, there are no apparent explanations for the violence: many parents found it difficult to understand why one child was violent when other children they had raised were not. In lots of cases we examined, families were also experiencing other personal, financial and social difficulties and many of the parents were single mothers. But it’s important to stress that this did not characterise all of the families and that this issue can affect all levels of society and all types of family. Indeed, it may be that parents with multiple needs and limited support are more likely to report adolescent to parent violence and to try to access help.
While in some cases the violence warrants criminal justice intervention and some families do support a prosecution, this is not always the most appropriate response. The vast majority of parents experiencing violence from their children require a supportive environment within which they can address the violent behaviour, whilst retaining a parent-child relationship.
There are a growing number of support services available for families - though it’s true that they face huge challenges in terms of funding and resources. Many services have developed incrementally as a response to sheer demand and involve enormous amounts of effort from dedicated practitioners. If you are experiencing this kind of violence or know someone who is, you may find the useful links page on our research project website a helpful source of information or support.
By Dr. Caroline Miles
Thanks for this blog. My friend has experienced violence from her teenaged son and it is truly heartbreaking.
Can I ask if this study looks at younger children? My DS is 8 and I already see some of this behaviour. I am desparate to stop it escalating. I don't want a teenage son who behaves like this.
me too, tiredandsadmum. my 10yo DS has been physically violent towards me on occasions for the last five years. I am working hard on supporting him in recognising when he is beginning to feel angry, in order for him to remove himself or verbalise these emotions rather than hit me or his brother. But I dread him hitting adolescence. What's more, he plays 'shoot 'em up' games when at his Dad's, and Dad himself doesn't see the link between this and the behaviour of his DS. It's a tough, tough situation.
This is very well written, thanks. I'd just mention neurocognitive disorders as the cause of this for some. It doesn't necessarily fix anything to know but there are other strategies you can try when you understand the root cause and can see that all the usual approaches are having no effect.
Knowing there is a brain difference/ problem can also help with finding appropriate education. None of this is easy though and families in this situation (we are with a 7 year old) have my utmost sympathy. I have involved social services three times (understanding but can't help) and would have no hesitation in going to the police and just hoping for the best if/ when it comes to it.
Meant to also add that it is the absolute pits when your child attacks you and/ or your DP and other siblings, really, truly gut-wrenching. You are trying to protect everyone whilst feeling utterly out of your depth.
This is a complex issue. From a secondary school setting I have come across situations similar to what Dr Miles has discussed. The majority of the cases that have come into school where I have worked have involved adolescent boys bring violent towards their Mums. Sometimes the anger comes from an absent father and is directed towards Mum. I have often wondered with some boys how they develop positive male role models in these situations. But as Dr Miles says, this is not the whole story and sometimes there seems to be no concrete reason for the violence. I would be very interested to know though, if Dr Miles has considered issues around media portrayal of females, the widespread availability of pornography and violent video games on the psyche of violent adolescent males? Maybe there is some mileage in someone pulling all of this data together and coming up with some theories!
same as tiredandsadmum except mines 10yrs old. still in the process of trying to get dc assessed- tis like banging head against a brick wall.
I will have no hesitation in calling the police when/if he does anything too serious, he has previously tried to suffocate his brother amongst other things and although hes my son, I have to protect myself and my other chidren too.
My ds7 is also getting violent towards me and dd. It's reasuring to hear other people showing the same behaviour as I just felt it was me being a bad parent! Me and dd suffer with dyspraxia, ASD and me epilepsy. It makes it really hard to handle anger. Everyone says i need to get some help before he reaches adolescent, guess they're right.
i have often thought how outright evil and unproductive it is to just blanket threaten parents of adolescents who don't go to school. how on earth would i be able to force a teenage male of comparable size or greater than me to go to school if he is violent? even if not violent i don't see how threatening parents who can't control their children's behaviour in adolescence is productive? sure those who are guilty of neglect, lack of supervision, lack of effort etc but when you read of the cases where mother's have been desperately trying to get help for years only to receive fines and threats of imprisonment it is so cruel.
i really feel for anyone in this situation. imagine for example having gotten rid of a violent partner only to find your teenage son has so imbibed the behaviour that they start lashing out at you. i can imagine blaming yourself for them having been exposed to violence and being afraid to seek help for fear they're taken away and imagine how much worse that is if you're still traumatised or trying to work out what happened in the violent marriage?
of course there needs to be help. and realistically it's not contained to a 'domestic' or parental problem - young men being violent in the home to their mothers are surely likely to become older men being violent to their partners and children? it's a social problem and identifying and dealing with stuff young could protect many people further down the line.
just a quick note to my post above - is a family that has experienced domestic violence and abuse from an adult male who then leaves observed for further signs of violence and supported afterwards? it seems likely that such a family would be at risk of violence even after the culprit has gone if it has been the norm that the children have absorbed and that they should be observed and supported.
I hope some people considered PDA, Pathological Demand Avoidance, when they did this study? It won't apply to all children, but this is a recognised syndrome and using different strategies and actually understanding the child really can work. For more info, please go to www.pdaresource.com or feel free to contact me (a mum of 2 young girls, one with PDA) directly if this sounds like your child!
I am so "pleased" (sorry not really the right word...) that someone else has mentioned PDA. My DS shows many of the criteria and yet I am quite openly mocked for talking about it in RL. Thank you for posting that link I will take a look. I do look at the PDA forum occasionally.
This summary paper on teenage violence sounds very like Pathological demand avoidance - particularly the violence linked to school refusal and in response to the word 'no'. Have the authors considered this? or has anyone who feels this is a very familiar scenario considered the possibility that their child might have PDA? Go to the PDA resource or the PDA contact group to find out more. There are thousands of us with kids like this and who have found that actually they have an autistic spectrum condition and need specialist school, management at home and basically life long support for their condition.
I think it's important that awareness of Pathological Demand Avoidance gets out there.
The article does mention violence in teens can be caused by a variety of reasons, from substance abuse to the child having been abused, to mental health problems.
Surely PDA comes under that last category?
The cases where there seems to be no reason are still quite possibly from any of those categories.
I do wonder if Aspergers/high functioning autism could be a cause of violent outbursts too?
And as we all know, a lot of kids go undiagnosed.
Thanks so much for this article. My db was abusive to my parents for years and this spilled into horrifying violence. I grew up expecting him to kill one of them and called the police myself as a nine year old when I saw my dad try to defend himself against my brother's assault. B was imprisoned for serious violent offences (not against them) so my fears were not irrational.
Looking back, he clearly endured terrible trauma before my parents adopted him. He had serious mental health issues, educational problems and multiple addictions that have led him into criminality. He would probably have been helped by CAMHS if he had been born later, but as it was, my parents had no support and could not help him. Knowing all this helps me to be more compassionate towards him BUT the damage he did to all of us - even though it was beyond his control - is lasting.
The parents of abusive teenagers suffer horribly. So do the siblings who grow up in terror. Home is not safe. We have to be the 'good' kids and this can lead to some really bad decisions. I am only now, in my early forties, beginning to recognise quite how profoundly my brother's violence has affected me. I hope this isn't hijacking - I think it's another aspect of adolescent domestic violence that is rarely acknowledged.
My own ds2 has ASD and a very violent temper. He's only 8 and his issues are nowhere near as complex as my brother's, but sometimes I feel quite worried about having a grown young man throwing his weight about. At least with MN I know there's somewhere to go for support and advice.
Thanks again for this.
I am interested that others have brought up PDA, I thought this was a possibility after I watched that drama show on tv a few years ago, I contacted Sabrina on fb to speak more about molly and how to go about getting a diagnosis. my ds has made big improvements in the last 2 yrs- largely due to changing schools ( he was being floor restrained at school by 4 adults, daily at one point, even to the point of him coming home with bruises where theyd held him so hard :-( )
he had bloods and was found to have a "clinically insignificant" abnormality on his X chromosome, they have done the array test on me and his father too, so see if the abnormality started in us or is new to ds.
we are currently waiting to go back to consultant to discuss ds again and hopefully get bloods results back by about may this yr.
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