Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse
Adolescent to parent violence and abuse (APVA) may be referred to as ‘adolescent to parent violence (APV)’ ‘adolescent violence in the home (AVITH)’, ‘parent abuse’, ‘child to parent abuse’, ‘child to parent violence (CPV)’, or ‘battered parent syndrome’.
There is currently no legal definition of adolescent to parent violence and abuse. However, it is 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 It is important to recognise that APVA is likely to involve a pattern of behaviour. This can include physical violence from an adolescent towards a parent and a number of different types of abusive behaviours. Violence and abuse can occur together or separately. Abusive behaviours can encompass, but are not limited to, humiliating language and threats, belittling a parent, damage to property, stealing from a parent and heightened sexualised behaviours. However, some families might experience episodes of explosive physical violence from their adolescent with fewer controlling, abusive behaviours.
Although practitioners may be required to respond to a single incident of APVA, it is important to gain an understanding of the pattern of behaviour behind an incident and the history of the relationship between the young person and the parent. It is also important to understand the pattern of behaviour in the family unit; siblings may also be abused or be abusive. There may also be a history of domestic abuse, or current domestic abuse occurring between the parents of the young person. It is important to recognise the effects APVA may have on both the parent and the young person and to establish trust and support for both.
The first large scale study of adolescent to parent violence and abuse in the UK was conducted by the University of Oxford (see http://apv.crim.ox.ac.uk/) between 2010 and 2013. Practitioners and parents interviewed in this study described the abuse as often involving a pattern of aggressive, abusive and violent acts across a prolonged period of time. As well as physically assaulting their parents, those interviewed said their teenage children had smashed up property, kicked holes in doors, broken windows, had thrown things at their parents and made threats. Verbal abuse and other controlling behaviours were also commonly present. This pattern of behaviour creates an environment where a parent lives in fear of their child and often curtails their own behaviour in order to avoid conflict, contain or minimise violence. This study found that there was no single explanation for this problem. Families described a range of reasons which they saw to be the cause for APVA, including substance abuse, mental health problems, learning difficulties, or a family history of domestic violence or self-harm. Some families were at a loss to explain why their child was so aggressive towards them, having raised other children who did not display such behaviour.
Help and Support
PEGS has been set up to support both parents and professionals deal with the issues associated with child to parent abuse. They have awareness and training sessions help people to learn new tools and techniques when dealing with abusive children, what policies are out there to assist families, and what other support networks and frameworks exist in the UK.
Yvonne Newbold MBE (www.yvonnenewbold.com) has easily accessible resources for parents and professionals to understand the behaviours they see in their child, and has developed strategies to support parents where their child has diagnosed, or suspected neurodevelopmental conditions. Below is a summary of the issue.
For children with a neurodevelopment condition, violent and challenging behaviour is very common. Around one in four of all children with a diagnosis of autism or a learning disability, will develop behaviour which is both violent and challenging, also called VCB. Children with other conditions such as ADHD and PDA can also present with these behaviours. (See IAN Community Scientific Liaison Kennedy Krieger Institute), It is important to be aware that a child or young person may have an underlying, undiagnosed condition, rather than assuming they are badly behaved and need punishment to correct the behavior
- VCB in these children is not caused by poor parenting, nor is it the child’s fault. It is part of having a neurodevelopmental condition. However, many families have found, with the right intervention and support, a child can turn their behaviours around completely.
- VCB can present in many different ways. It can be physical attacks on parents, siblings and others that may include lashing punching, kicking, hitting, hair-pulling, biting, throwing things, using household items as weapons or missiles, intimidatory behaviour or language, insults and other verbal attacks. It also includes destruction of property and of the home.
- Although it looks like extremely bad behaviour, it is not. VCB stems from a place of extreme anxiety and can be triggered by a number of issues such as sensory processing differences, transition difficulties, school issues, communication difficulties and many others.
- When a child behaves in this way, they are often trying to tell us something, and they are also possibly meeting one of their own needs. Working out exactly what they are trying to tell us and why they are doing it will help us understand our child and their behaviours better, and that is often the key to starting to work out how to turn VCB around. However, it’s not easy to work out what’s behind their behaviours, and the reasons are seldom obvious or easy to detect.
- Children can be supported to develop more effective and less dangerous ways of communicating, as well as strategies that can help them get their needs met.
- However, there are few, if any, overnight “quick fixes”. Progress will be measured in tiny steps, and there are likely to be periods of time when families feel they are getting nowhere or even going backwards.
- When children are in the middle of a violent meltdown it means that they are in the middle of huge and overwhelming distress. Their “fight or flight” mechanism has kicked in, and they are literally either fighting, or in some cases attempting to run away, because they feel their very survival is at risk.
- When the fight or flight mechanism is triggered, energies are focused on muscular strength, and the brain partially shuts down to enable us to sort out the situation physically. This means that a child who is in the middle of a violent meltdown will have limited access to the part of their brain that makes judgements, controls impulses, listens to reason, or responds to requests.
For more information and access to resources, www.yvonnenewbold.com
The SEND VCB Project supports families of violent children who also have an additional need to help their child be happier & calmer.. They have over 300 success stories and a Facebook group for parents - https://www.facebook.com/groups/421839288150939/
The Connective Parenting group is for any and all parents wanting a more connective way to parent. Based on the Non Violent Resistance or NVR approach it helps parents to connect with their child and manage any difficult behaviours gently. It is a therapeutic way of parenting that engages the child to develop positive self confidence and helps create a harmonious family life. The group is supportive, not judgemental.
Support is provided to both parents and carer to parent in a way which is likely to increase connection and reduce violence and abusive behaviours
The Organisation “AVA” are offering a free e-learning module, funded by the Home Office for professionals who would like to understand more: