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Abuse of parents by their children is a common but under reported and under researched subject. Parents are quite often subject to levels of childhood aggression, typically in the form of verbal or physical abuse, in excess of normal childhood aggressive outbursts. Parents feel a sense of shame and humiliation to have that problem, so they rarely seek help and there is usually little or no help available anyway.
Adolescent abuse towards parents and even grandparents is a problem in the United States as well as other countries around the world but it is something not often discussed or reported because most family abuse in general remains hidden from public view until law enforcement becomes involved. Child abuse and spousal abuse are discussed, but parents abused by their own offspring are still considered by many to be a taboo subject, according to some researchers. Reasons for this may be parents feel ashamed and/or think they should be able to handle the situation by themselves without outside assistance. In addition, some parents may feel it is not safe for them to attempt to control the situation for it might enrage their child more. But any form of abuse is harmful to the victim as well as the abuser and may lead to more serious consequences if ignored. Identifying or admitting there is a problem is the first step to finding a solution to adolescent parental abuse and seeking help through intervention is the next step to attempt to resolve problematic adolescent behavior.
An adolescent is a young person between the ages of 12 and 24. This age range is the developmental stage between childhood and adulthood. This does not mean that 12-24 is the only age range of abusers; they can be younger than 10 years old, in fact, 11% of the abusers may be less than age 10.
According to Cottrell and Bobic, abuse may appear in one or a combination of five forms; physical, verbal, psychological, emotional, and financial. Bobic mentioned only four of the five listed abuses; verbal abuse was not included in his 2004 article, Adolescent Violence Towards Parents.
According to Purplefairy, many people consider parent abuse to be the result of bad parenting, neglect, or the child suffering abuse themselves, but many adolescent abusers have had normal upbringing and have not suffered from these situations. Children may be subjected to violence on TV, in movies and in music, and that violence may come to be considered "normal." The breakdown of the family unit, poor or nonexistent relationships with an absent parent, as well as, debt, unemployment, and parental drug/alcohol abuse may all be contributing factors to abuse. Some other reasons for parental abuse according to several experts are:
Parental abuse is a relatively new term. In 1979, Harbin and Madden released a study using the term “parent battery” but juvenile delinquency, which is a major factor, has been studied since the late 1800s. Even though some studies have been done in the United States, Australia, Canada, and other countries, the lack of reporting of adolescent abuse toward parents makes it difficult to accurately determine the extent of it. Many studies have to rely on self-reporting by adolescents. In 2004, Robinson, of Brigham Young University, published: Parent Abuse on the Rise: A Historical Review in the American Association of Behavioral Social Science Online Journal, reporting results of the 1988 study performed by Evans and Warren-Sohlberg. The results reported that 57% of parental abuse was physical; using a weapon at 17%; throwing items at 5% and verbal abuse reported at 22%. With 82% of the abuse being against mothers (5 times greater than against fathers) and 11% of the abusers were under the age of 10 years old. The highest rate of abuse happens within families with a single mother. Mothers are usually the primary caregiver; they spend more time with their children than fathers and have closer emotional connections to them. It can also be due to the size and strength of the abuser and women are often thought of as weaker and even powerless. Parental abuse can occur in any family and is not associated with ethnic background, socio-economic class, or sexual orientation.
Numerous studies concluded that gender does not play a role in the total number of perpetrators; however, males are more likely to inflict physical abuse and females are more likely to inflict emotional abuse. Studies from the United States estimate that violence among adolescents peaks at 15–17 years old. However, a Canadian study done by Barbara Cottrell in 2001 suggests the ages are 12–14 years old.
Parental abuse does not happen just inside the home but can be in public places, further adding to the humiliation of the parents. Abuse is not only a domestic affair but can be criminal as well. Most teenagers experience a normal transition in which they try to go from being dependent to independent, but there are some dynamics of unhealthy parental control that also play a direct part in the failure to properly raise a child in this regard. There will always be times of resistance toward parental authority. According to the Canadian National Clearinghouse on Family Violence the abuse generally begins with verbal abuse, but even then, some females can be very physically abusive towards a child who is smaller and more vulnerable than they are, and to cover their abuse, they often lie to the other parent about actual events that led to "severe punishment." The child, adolescent or parent may show no remorse or guilt and feels justified in the behavior, but many times when the child is the one who is being abused, they are very remorseful for being forced to defend themselves, especially when they are not the aggressor. Parents must examine their children’s behavior and determine if it is acceptable or if it crosses the line of abusiveness, just as a parent has the responsibility as an adult who is supposed to know better should be responsible for his/her own abuses towards a helpless child. Some teenagers can become aggressive as a result of parental abuses and dysfunction or psychological problems. Some children may have trouble dealing with their emotions, that is all part of growing up but there is a line that should not be crossed and parents may determine where that line is. Unfortunately, abused children are not afforded protections from abusive parents. This practice often helps discourage abusive behavior and show that it will not be tolerated.
These types of aggressive behaviors are very important to recognize for appropriate treatment of adolescents and parents abused by the same. Yet the escalation of violence is an interactive process. When parents or others overreact and intervene emotionally, they can cause the adolescent’s aggression to escalate to a higher level, by exerting examples of violence and unreasonableness as a parent. The more tendency towards abuse and negative behaviors that the parent exemplifies, the more reactive the child will also be, more often in a negative manner. Balancing these two dynamics is the key to healthy family dynamics in reducing potential abuse within families, whether it be parental abuses or child abuses.
Intervention is perhaps the best solution to confront adolescent parental abuse and the key to turn aggressive behavior by adolescents, teenagers, and young adults during its early stages and help prevent any other form of parental abuse from taking place. Intervention should never be confused with child abuse or child neglect.