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Parent Abuse by Teen | Psych Central
Ben Martin PsyD

Parents ? just like anyone else ? can be abused by a child or teenager. A young adult is just as capable as inflicting emotional, verbal and physical abuse, but it is often misunderstood or minimized because of the teen?s age. Age can be deceiving and is no indication of a person?s ability to inflict harm or damage another person?s life ? even their parent?s. Teens can abuse and be abusing parents at any time, and no one may know unless the parent speaks up.

A parent who is being abused by their own child, whether it be a teen or even a younger child, may feel a sense of shame. As a mom or dad, you may think, ?I should be able to handle this. Just because my child hits me or yells at me, I shouldn?t feel ashamed.?

But teenagers who are being abusive ? hitting, threatening, intimidating, name-calling, shoving or more ? need to understand the ramifications of their abusive behavior toward an adult. Just because that adult happens to be their parent doesn?t forgive or excuse the criminal behavior.

If you are suffering abuse at the hands of your son or daughter, it may be helpful to understand these tips:

Your safety is important
It is easy to believe that sacrificing yourself to protect your child is the ?right thing? for a parent to do. But your safety is just as important and cannot be sacrificed to protect your child. If you?re seriously injured or, as the result of an accident, become hospitalized or worse, you will not be available to raise your child.

Make a safety plan and yes, call the police if necessary. It does not mean you don?t love your child. We all want to protect our children but that protection can not be traded against personal safety. Everyone has a right to feel both physically and emotionally safe.

You are not alone with this
Although the problem of parent abuse isn?t often talked about, it does exist and apparently is becoming increasingly common.

Rely on your inner strength and wisdom to guide you toward the best answer for your family. Consider all available resources to you. Some of these include: therapy or counseling, evaluation and medication, if appropriate; temporary respite, (BoysTown) drug/alcohol testing, if appropriate; mediation if your teen is willing to acknowledge that s/he is responsible for his/her own violence and the necessary steps to re-establish trust and safety in the home, anger management workshops, talking with trusted friends, etc.

Rely on yourself and your friends
Although you may want to keep this issue to yourself, that is the worse thing you can do. You need to rely not only on yourself, but also on your friends, family and support network. Although not everyone may understand or appreciate the seriousness of this issue, some of your friends and family will. Those are the ones you need to turn to at this time.

Do something. Anything. Marshaling your inner strength will help you do something; it might be learning more about parent abuse, interviewing therapists, finding a support group, etc. Just doing something can help you banish the feeling of powerlessness that often comes with parent abuse.

It will take time to fix this
Understand that turning the problem around will take time. As you experiment with different resources, allow time to determine if what you are trying is really for you. If not, why not? For example, what kind of therapist do you think would work best with your family? Is it someone that values a collaborative approach? Someone that has more traditional positions on family roles and responsibilities? It is important to look for a good fit that feels comfortable.

Present a united front
Parent must join together in a united front to successfully confront parent abuse. Parents and other care-givers can work together on solutions for managing the problem of parent abuse whether it is directed at one or both parties. Parents can only work together if they talk to one another to understand the full extent of the problem. Now is the time for trust, not accusation, especially if the parents are no longer together. Adults will do many things, but they won?t lie about something as serious as parent abuse at the hands of their own child.

* * *
Help your teen understand what you expect. Consider the use of behavior contracts and family meetings. Remove privileges when necessary and spend time together doing things you both enjoy.

For many parents, parent abuse feels like the outcome of a job not so well-done. Many parents feel like the abuse means they have failed themselves and their children. When you start beating yourself up about the way you are being treated by your teen, it may be helpful to remember that you are not your child?s only or sole influence. Your children encounter many people and experiences that happen completely outside of your relationship with them. Maybe you didn?t have a part in causing what is happening now, but you do have some power to direct how your relationship will be going forward. Choose to use it as best as the situation allows.


Signs of Parental Abuse: What to Do When Your Child or Teen Hits You
August 2, 2014

Jennifer?s son began hitting her when he was 14 years old. ?I just didn?t know what to do,? she told us. ?If anyone else had hit me, I would have called the police. But this was my son! I didn?t want him arrested but I wanted the abuse to stop. I was ashamed to admit to my family what was going on and I knew they would take action, even if I didn?t. The situation was intolerable but I couldn?t take action. I felt trapped, like I was in a car without brakes.?

"Parental abuse can leave a person feeling embarrassed, ashamed, angry and terrified. These emotions are what we call 'Parent Paralyzers': feelings that are so intense they overtake logic and reason."
Parental abuse occurs when a child ? usually a teenager but sometimes a pre-teen ? engages in behavior that is abusive toward a parent. It may be a one-time incident or it may escalate in frequency, even to the point of a daily occurrence. It can range from verbal abuse (calling a parent foul names, threatening a parent) and intimidation to outright physical assault. If you are the target of parental abuse, you?re probably living in fear every day of what your teen will do next, always waiting for what will set off a volcanic eruption. In other cases, the abusive behavior may occur with no emotion: a quiet, deliberate act of harm used by a teen to maintain power over a parent.

Parental abuse can leave a person feeling embarrassed, ashamed, angry and terrified. These emotions are what we call ?Parent Paralyzers?: feelings that are so intense they overtake logic and reason. Feelings that leave us questioning ourselves, trapped in uncertainty about what direction to take. If you?re in this situation with your child, know that it doesn?t mean you are weak or not intelligent. In fact, many parents who are the victim of a teen?s abuse at home are successful in the workplace or other settings.

Is My Child?s Behavior Abusive?
If your child or teen is harming you physically, you are being abused. It?s that plain and simple. One man raising his granddaughter admitted, ?I knew her behavior was unacceptable; she would throw things whenever she got mad and one time she hit me in the chest with an ashtray. After that, she started throwing things with the intention of hitting me. I just never thought of it as abusive.? No one wants to believe their child could be abusive. Emotion can ?muddy the waters,? make us question whether or not things are as ?bad? as our gut tells us they are. Ask yourself: if your child was anyone else ? a neighbor, a co-worker ? would you consider his or her actions to be assaultive or abusive? This will help you take the emotion out of evaluating a situation.

Warning Signs of Parental Abuse
Sometimes a situation escalates without us even realizing it. The following are some potential warning signs that a child?s behavior is bordering on abusive:

Feeling Intimidated. It?s normal to feel your child is pushing boundaries to get what he wants. Kids will ask over and over for something they want, until a parent can finally snap, ?I told you no!? What?s not typical is to feel that if you don?t give your child what she wants, she will retaliate in a way that is harmful to you. Intimidation is a way of frightening someone else into doing something. It may be the words, the tone of voice or even just a look.

Extreme Defiance. Yes, kids can be defiant, even your typical child. But when it reaches a point that your child has no respect for your authority as a parent, outright defying the rules of your home with no fear or concern of consequences, it?s a potential sign of escalation. Many kids can be defiant without violence; however, extreme oppositional behavior can be part of a more serious picture.

An Escalating Pattern of Violence. Kids get angry, slam doors, throw things in a fit on the floor in their room. You can probably remember a time when you were growing up that you got mad and smashed something. But you learned that this behavior didn?t get you what you wanted and ? in fact ? may result in you having to re-buy things you valued. On the other hand, if a child or teen?s behavior continues to escalate to the point of destroying property, punching walls, shoving, hitting things near you or throwing things that ?almost? hit you, making verbal threats or violating your personal boundaries (?getting in your space?), this is a pattern that may indicate abusive behavior.

Why Is My Teen Abusive?
When a child or teen turns abusive, it?s natural to ask ?Why?? Many parents feel guilty, blaming themselves for their teen?s behavior: If I was a better parent, my child wouldn?t be acting this way. The truth is, there can be several underlying factors contributing to parental abuse including poor boundaries, substance abuse (by either a parent or child), poor coping skills, underlying psychological conditions (such as ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder) and learned behavior. Some kids behave violently due to poor coping skills. Others are more deliberate and enjoy the power that comes from intimidating a parent. Remember: we can try to understand what?s going on in any situation, but there is no excuse or rationale for abusive behavior.

Responding to Parental Abuse
Aggressive and abusive behavior is not a part of typical childhood or adolescence. It?s not a stage that your teen will ?grow out of? if you ignore it. If you?re dealing with parental abuse in your home, your child is violating the rights of others. It doesn?t matter that it?s his parent?s rights; that doesn?t make it any less serious or illegal. Your home is the place where your child will learn how to interact in the world. He is learning what?s acceptable?and what?s not. He?s learning about consequences for behavior and accountability. One of the hardest tasks a parent can be faced with is responding to their own child?s aggression or abuse. It?s natural to feel torn. On one hand, it?s instinctual to protect your child. On the other hand, nothing can push a parent?s buttons of anger, disappointment and hurt like a child?s abusive behavior. Some days you may feel emotionally stronger than others. Only you can decide what you?re able to follow through with at any given time. Here are some suggestions:

1. Clearly Communicate Boundaries. Make sure your child understands your physical and emotional boundaries. You may need to clearly state: ?It?s not okay to yell or push or hit me.? If you?ve said this to your child in the past, but allowed her to cross those boundaries in the past without consequence, she?s gotten mixed messages. Your words have told her one set of boundaries but your actions (by accepting being yelled at or hit) have communicated another set of boundaries. Make sure your non-verbal communication (what you do) matches your verbal communication (what you say).

2. Clearly Communicate Consequences For Abusive Behavior. Tell your teen: ?If you hit me, throw something at me or otherwise hurt me physically, that?s called domestic violence and assault. Even though I love you, I will call you the police and you will be held accountable for your behavior.? Then ? again ? make sure your actions match your words. If you don?t think you can follow through with contacting the police ? don?t say you will. This will only reinforce to your child that you make ?threats? that won?t be carried out. You may choose to provide other consequences, other than legal, that you enforce. If a friend physically assaulted you, would you let her borrow your car or give her spending money the next day? Probably not.

3. Contact the Authorities. We don?t say this lightly or without understanding how difficult this can be for a parent. Some parents are outraged at a teen?s abusive behavior and react: ?I?ve got no problem calling the cops on my kid if he ever raises a hand to me!? Other parents struggle, worrying about the long term consequences of contacting the police or unable to handle the thought of their child facing charges. Remember: if your teen is behaving violently toward you now, there is the risk that this will generalize to his future relationships with a spouse, his own children or other members of society. You are not doing him a favor by allowing him to engage in this behavior without consequence. (For more on this, read How to Talk to Police When Your Child is Physically Abusive.)

4. Get Support. Parental abuse is a form of domestic violence. It?s a serious issue and needs immediate attention and intervention. Domestic violence has traditionally been characterized by silence. As hard as it is, break that silence. Get support from family or friends ? anyone you think will be supportive. If your natural supports tend to judge you and you?re afraid it will only make the situation worse, contact a local domestic violence hotline, counselor or support group. For support and resources in your community, you can also call 2-1-1 or visit, a free and confidential service through the United Way.

The road to a healthier relationship with your child will very likely take time. There?s no shortcut or quick fix. It starts with acknowledgement of the issue and accountability. If you?re facing this issue in your family, we wish you strength and empowerment.
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