In a positive parent-child relationship, the parent is responsible for the child, the child is accountable to the parent and the parent provides authority, support, love and safety. Sometimes the reverse is true and when this happens there is the potential for abuse. Parent abuse is often called the “Silent Abuse” and is often not reported by the parent. What happens when your teenager is the abuser?
What is Parent Abuse?Parent abuse is any act of a child that is intended to cause physical, psychological or financial damage to gain power and control over a parent. Any behavior that is deliberately harmful to the parent and used as a form of control may be defined as abuse. The abuse may be physical, psychological (including verbal) or financial.
Understanding Parent Abuse
The abuse often begins with verbal abuse. For many parents, the abuse is a daily occurrence that follows a pattern, usually with the child showing no signs of remorse or guilt.
Mothers and step-mothers, in both single and two-parent homes, are the most common targets of teenagers' abusive behavior. Fathers and step-fathers are also victims of parent abuse but generally not to the same extent as mothers and step-mothers. When violence occurs between children and their fathers, fathers often react violently and perceive the incident as a fight rather than abuse. Teenagers also abuse other vulnerable members of the family such as younger siblings or family pets.
Some abusive teens have themselves been the victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, or have witnessed their parents or siblings being abused and may become abusive as a way to regain some of their lost power and control. Many studies have provided evidence to support the hypothesis that adolescent violent behavior is a function of having experienced or witnessed child abuse.
Although many professionals believe that boys tend to be more physically violent toward their parents than girls, research indicates that both boys and girls participate in all forms of abuse.
Many abusive teens participate in socially deviant activities such as drug or alcohol use or criminal activities (shoplifting, fraud, break and enter theft, violent crime and/or prostitution). When teens become involved in drugs or alcohol, parents sometimes notice a sudden, drastic change in their school work, relationships and behavior.
Before the teen drug abuse of a loved one become any worse, it is best for parents to intervene and bring their child to a rehab center for treatment.
Parent Abuse and Adolescent Mental Health DisordersIn some instances, adolescent violence is a symptom of a serious mental disorder, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, these disorders are often difficult to diagnose. Some teens who exhibit violent or aggressive behavior toward their parents or others are diagnosed as having:
1. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD or ADD)
2. Oppositional Defiant Disorder
3. Conduct Disorders, including Adolescent Adjustment Disorder.
Making Matters Difficult…
Police records do not specify the relationship between the victim and perpetrator in charges of assault, and the Young Offenders' Act prevents access to information on charges against minors. Hospitals, shelters and other institutions such as child welfare and adolescent mental health agencies and schools, where we would expect to hear reports of parent abuse, often do not recognize, record or report the problem.
To help families and stop parent abuse, we have to break the silence that surrounds it. Because parent abuse is not consistently recognized it often goes unaddressed—and worse, becomes tolerated behavior. The first step to ending the abuse is recognizing that it is abuse.
All abused parents experience a range of emotions, from fear of their teenager and fear for the safety of their teenager, to guilt about pressing police charges for assault. Most parents have difficulty accepting that their child could be abusive toward them and may initially deny the problem.
Failure, Shame and Blame:
Many parents feel depressed and filled with shame that they were not able to produce a happy family. They question their parenting abilities, agonize over where they went wrong, and begin to feel like failures. Women particularly live under the threat of not meeting societal expectations and being condemned as bad mothers.
Despair and Isolation:
In addition to feeling solely responsible, parents often feel unsupported and isolated. They feel hopeless and helpless because they are unable to control the situation, either because of physical danger or their own emotional turmoil. Despair at not having a harmonious family life and feeling isolated in the situation makes change all the more difficult. The psychological abuse parents experience is as unnerving and damaging as physical abuse.
Teens' abusive behavior often leads to arguments between adults in the home as to how the teen should be disciplined. This limits the amount of quality time the adults are able to spend together. Many couples' relationships undergo a tremendous amount of strain and are sometimes torn apart because of the teen's behavior.
Almost all abused parents feel unable to trust their teen, especially when they are left unsupervised at home. The uncertainty of what will confront them when they return is always on the parents' mind. Some wonder whether the child will be home at all, or if their home and possessions will be damaged, while others just dread having to deal with their teen.
The stress of dealing with an abusive teen can have a negative impact on parents' health, sometimes making existing health problems worse, sometimes causing new problems. A number use prescribed medication to help them deal with the tension and stress of the situation. Some parents also turn to alcohol or drugs to help them cope.
When the teenager has had to leave the house, some family members experience a strong sense of loss: siblings no longer have their brother or sister, and parents grieve for the loss of their child. They are also grieving for the loss of the family as a unit. This experience is especially traumatic in single-parent families and/or where the teen is an only child. In cases where the teenager has a child, parents lose not only their child, but also their contact with the grandchild.
Adolescents' abusive behavior affects other children in the home and parents fear for their safety. Some parents are concerned that observing a sibling's dangerous activities (drugs, alcohol, violence and prostitution) may affect the other children and put the rest of the family at risk. In addition, focusing on the abusive teen often leaves little time and energy for parents to pay attention to the other children. Parents have reported that the children who are being ignored sometimes act out in order to get attention, or become depressed.
The parents' and child's relationships with friends and extended family members can be jeopardized by the abuse. Teens also manipulate other family members into believing the abuse is the parents' fault.
The stress of dealing with the abuse spreads beyond the home. Parents take their concerns and anxiety with them to the workplace. Some parents also worry about the number of phone calls they receive at work concerning their teenager, as well as the amount of time they have to take off to deal with emergency situations or court appearances.
Ending the Abuse:
There's no easy way to stop teenagers from abusing their parents, but there are some things parents can do to help themselves:
- Parents can shift their thinking from looking for a quick fix to recognition that they are involved in a - sometimes long - process. The solutions rarely come overnight. Stopping parent abuse is a process.
- Parents have to find out what works for them because the dynamics are different in every case. How the abuse is stopped will depend on the individual situation of each family.
- To find out what might work in their case, parents have to try different things.
- Parents can shop around. Therapists and others in the helping professions have different beliefs and different styles, parents should find the right person, or team of professionals, for their family.
- Working on the issue, instead of being passive and helpless, gives the parent strength. When they are trying to find a solution, they can feel better about themselves.
Where to Turn for Help if you are a Victim of Parent Abuse:Local
- Family and Friends
- Support Groups: Battered Women’s Shelter Crisis Line (330) 374-1111
- Counseling Services: Child Guidance & Family Solution (330) 762-0591; Greenleaf Family Center (330) 376-9494
- Juvenile Court Family Resource Center: (330) 643-3613
- Safe Landing Shelter for Boys: (330) 253-7632
- Safe Landing Shelter for Girls: (330) 784-7200
- Additional Referrals: Summit County Info Line (330) 376-6660
- Boys and Girls Town Hot Line: 1 (800) 448-3000
- National Run Away Switchboard: 1 (800) 621-4000
- Ohio Domestic Violence Network: 1 (800) 934-9840