Arguments are a natural part of family life, and these can certainly start to happen more often, as your child enters their teenage years. Sometimes conflicts will turn into blazing rows, with your teenager insulting you or swearing. This can be hurtful and frustrating for any parent to deal with. Although a certain level of anger and frustration is common from teenagers, it is not acceptable for your teenager to use aggression, threats or become violent towards you.
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Understanding child on parent violence
It can be difficult to know what defines this behaviour. The Government defines this as adolescent to parent violence and abuse (APVA), which is any form of behaviour by a young person to control and dominate over their parents. The aim is to instil fear, threaten and cause intimidation. APVA has a serious impact on parents and the wider family too. Although, there is no legal definition of adolescent to parent violence and abuse. However, it’s increasingly recognised as a form of domestic violence and abuse and depending on the age of the child, it may fall under the government’s official definition of domestic violence and abuse.
Met Police figures show reports of child-to-parent violent offences grew from 920 in 2012 to 1801 in 2016, which is a 95% increase. Thirty-five police forces in England and Wales shows officers probed 10,051 cases of domestic violence against adults by children in the year 2015/16. Comparable data for 19 police forces in England, Wales and the Channel Islands saw annual incidents jump from 7,224 in 2015 to 14,133 in 2018. During the pandemic, The University of Oxford carried out a study found 70% had seen an increase in violent incidents during the lockdown, while parallel research with 47 practitioners working in the field found most had seen a rise in referrals and recorded increased levels of violence. These figures are the tip of the iceberg.
How parents feel
"My son had a temper tantrum last night, over not doing his homework. I restrained him, as he was attempting to smash up his bedroom. My other children were terrified; my husband doesn't know what to do. He ripped my jeans, I have a huge bruise on my leg, he has smashed a hole in his door and ripped his light fitting out. We are all going to have to suffer this week because we have to pay to fix the damage. He just thinks it's all unfair on him! We are in a dark place right now, I know I need help with this, but am terrified of the consequences for him." (Mother of 13 year old son)
We have spoken to many families and often they get in touch when things have escalated. They describe their reluctance in seeking help as they feel ashamed or a bad parent and worried about being judged. When parents are going through this horrendous situation in their family life, they might also be feeling isolated and frightened to speak up and get some support.
As difficult as it may be, support is available and it is important to get some help and advice on dealing with this. The impact of this violence and aggression affects the whole family as everyone could be walking on eggshells and feeling constant dread.
What could be behind this?
A young person who is acting in an aggressive or violent way is quite likely to be struggling with their feelings or it could be a reaction to something that they are going through which they may have kept to themselves. Is this behaviour something that has been a bolt unexpectedly? On the other hand, is it something that perhaps has been increasing as they have been developing? It is important to try to put a timeline on when and how it started and what triggers could have been the catalyst.
We often find that there could be underlying emotional and mental health issues in the young people and they may be suffering from depression, anxiety or even harming themselves. Other triggers could include situations such as family breakdown, bullying or substance misuse. It is important to keep in mind that no child wants to behave in this way, frighten the people they love but it may have got out of control and they may be struggling on how to manage their feelings.
“Our eldest daughter started getting in trouble in school at about the age of 11. We tried being strong disciplinarians but it just made matters worse. Her behaviour deteriorated to aggression, violence, rudeness and self-harming. We eventually found out that serious bullying was going on, and she was bullying and playing truant to keep on their good side. When we got nowhere with the school we pulled her out and decided to home school. We have learned how to deal with her outbursts of misbehaviour and continue to listen to her and support her. She is now in a new school studying for GCSEs and enjoying it and her friends. It was tough but you must never give up on your child even if they say they hate you. That doesn't mean you have to be a pushover, remain firm and consistent in your rules and boundaries but equally consistent with your love and support." (Mother of 15 year old)
What to do if you are experiencing violence from your teen
If you are experiencing violence from your teen, it may be hard to admit that there is a problem, but if your teenager is hitting you, then this is domestic abuse. You deserve to feel safe in your own home and family life.
Look after yourself - This is vital to cope with the anger and aggression from your teen. You probably feel exhausted, demoralised and are likely to be making huge efforts to get a tiny amount of control.
This is not your fault - No parent can avoid making mistakes, life itself is an imperfect process full of disappointments, and difficulties and children need to be able to cope with these.
Choose your battles - You can’t tackle everything at once, put some issues on the back-burner to be dealt with later.
Try not to take it personally - If your child is struggling, it’s often because of a range of issues that may have been beyond your control. Once you are aware of them, you can give the support and help to address their fears and worries.
Separate the behaviour from your teen – You can still love your teen but not like their behaviour. It is not a package and it is important to try to view the behaviour as a stand-alone issue.
Use language that separates the behaviour from your teen - Family Lives works with parents on giving ‘3-part statements’ that really do make a difference: “when you did… I felt… what I want to happen is…”. Repeating this, and being consistent in using it, works. Avoid using language that blames and is negative. Think about what you are saying and how you are saying it, such as the tone, etc.
Ignoring the behaviour won’t make it go away – It is really hard to go through this, but playing it down won’t help it go away. If it is not addressed, the violence could increase and become a life-long pattern; help them break the pattern.
Keep yourself safe – This is so important and ensure you and other members of the family are safe. If you can spot the signs of the conflict turning into violence, have a safety plan for those times. Try to go to a place of safety while you decide what to do next. Call the police if you need to.
Calling the police - You may feel reluctant to call in the police as you may not want your child to get into serious trouble or for other reasons. The police have been working with many families on adolescent to parent violence and abuse and understand the impact. If you are in fear for your safety or you are feeling threatened it is ok to call the police to help diffuse the situation and for you to feel safe.
Redress the balance - Often the only attention you will be giving your teen is in response to negative behaviour. If you feel able to, find moments where you can show your appreciation when they are doing well.
Be aware of your own responses and reactions to conflict - You might be inflaming the situation without meaning to, for example, by shouting or responding back with aggression. Keep yourself calm. Leave the room for a while if you need to. Respond rather than react.
Acknowledge their feelings - “I know you’re really angry”, recognises the fact without criticism. “What would help you now”, offers support but does not have to be agreed to, as does, “I’ll see what I can do and we’ll talk about it later”. A gentle look, a kind touch can convey this without hostility and before trying to talk about what is wrong.
Try to find the root of the anger - School pressures, bullying, friendships, mental health, family breakdown, illness can all be trigger factors that add to a child’s stress levels. They are not excuses but may be reasons for it. Talking through the pressures, listening to your teen attentively, without judging, interrupting or directing them can help them to offload their feelings and release the pressure constructively.
Help them develop self-strategies – Helping your teen to understand the triggers and what to do when they are angry is crucial to help them overcome this. When things are calm, have a chat and find out what they think would work for them. It may be a case of trial and error but it is good to help them manage their emotions and find a different outlet for their angry feelings. They might want to use calming down strategies for their anger or an alternative option is meditation to help them quieten down their mind. Let them know that you are there for them.
Give them space - Recognise that your teen is taking anger out on you and may not know how else to deal with difficult feelings. Once they have calmed down, you may be able to talk to them about what has happened and suggest they let you find them some help.
Don’t fight fire with fire - Avoid using violence with your teen. If you are hitting your teenager in response, then you are giving them the message that it is OK to use violence to solve disagreements. By avoiding using violence, you are setting a positive example of what you find acceptable.
Get support for yourself - Know what support you need, and pick and mix from your friends and relatives to get the best fit that you can. Contact supports services such as our helpline on 0808 800 2222 for support and advice.
Choosing your moments
You can choose a quiet moment, preferably one on one, to find out what is the route of their frustration and aggression. Listen to your teen and try to see their point of view. Even if you only see it slightly, let them know, instead of just disagreeing with everything. When your teen trusts that you can hear their views, they may be more likely to talk calmly instead of shouting.
Try to resolve the argument with a compromise, or at least show that you have understood where their emotions are coming from. If the situation becomes too heated and you are finding it difficult to stay calm, walk away. Avoid blame, and let your teen know that you will be able to talk to them again when you have calmed down.
It might be difficult for them to realise they have an issue and accept help. You could ask their school or college to support them so it might be worth involving the head of year or college wellbeing advisor. Make an appointment with your GP and try to get a referral to your local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) as they will be able to give your child counselling or therapy to help them manage their feelings. Waiting times and referral procedures can vary. You could also ask your GP to make a referral to family therapy so everyone is able to work through this together.
It may also be helpful to contact your local Youth Offending Services (YOS) for support. They may have a local support programmes for parents that work to prevent the behaviour escalating. They may accept self-referrals and it is worth finding out if they have a programme running in your area. To find out the contact details of your local YOS team, please click here.
If you are really struggling and feel unable to cope, it may be helpful to speak to your local Social Services about getting some support with your child's behaviour.
How we can support you
At Family Lives, we do understand how different each situation is. If you would like further support and advice, you can contact us for advice and support. We always endeavour to help the parent understand that violence against them from their teenager is unacceptable and it is abuse. If their teenager behaved, in this way towards anyone else outside the family, they would have to face consequences and so they should understand they should be still accountable for their behaviour within the family. Our support is non-judgemental, supportive and confidential. We explore options such as:
- Making sure the parent can protect themselves and other family member by removing themselves from the danger
- Calling the police and talking this through
- If they feel they cannot bring the police in then we speak to them about the possibility of a PCSO speaking to the teenager about possible consequences
- Asking if the teenager is under any particular stress at this time in order to identify where the anger is coming from
- Seeing if there is someone who will take the teenager in for a few days in order to let tempers calm
- Exploring if there is anyone the teenager looks up to and will listen to
- Supporting the parent to help break a deadlock and take themselves out of the situation
Other organisations that may be useful:
You can get in touch with the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247
PEGS provides support to parents who are experiencing violence from your child or teenager
Encourage your teen to speak to the team at The Mix who provide support to young people on any challenge they are facing
Young Minds who can give your teeen some much needed emotional support if they are struggiing with their feelings
Watch this video for further tips and advice
It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us via our live chat service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.