by Amanda Holt, author of Adolescent-to-parent abuse, publishing today
The ‘problem’ of teenagers is rarely off the news agenda. However, the focus of any problem behaviour is nearly always located outside the family home: on the streets, in the classroom, online. In such discussions, parents are frequently constructed as the root cause of the problem and the family home is rarely considered to be a site where adolescent problem behaviour towards parents is a concern.
However, it is becoming increasingly clear to practitioners who work with children and families that the problem of adolescents’ abusive behaviour towards parents is a very real one. Such abuse takes place mainly inside the family home, and it can take shape through physical, emotional and/or economic forms of abusive behaviour. Examples found in my own research include physical violence (and threats to cause physical harm), intimidation and undermining of the parent, and theft and damage to a parent’s property and possessions. Like other forms of family abuse (e.g. child abuse, interpersonal violence, elder abuse), adolescent-to-parent abuse can emerge very subtly and parents often feel a sense of disbelief, guilt and shame at what is happening. Such feelings may be particularly potent in cases of adolescent-to-parent abuse because many people are unaware that such abuse exists, making it hard for parents to talk about their experiences and for others to hear. Parents may also feel particularly silenced because we live in a culture where parents are routinely blamed for the problem behaviour of their children – often formally and publically through the use of criminal justice measures. And with few support services set up to deal with this form of family abuse, and with public policy failing to acknowledge it, it is unsurprising that this form of family abuse is so hidden.
This matters. As a human rights issue, no-one should be living in fear or, or under threat of, physical or emotional harm. As a health issue, the effects on families can be devastating, with long-lasting physical and emotional symptoms which can affect the life chances for parents and their children. As a criminal justice issue, there is evidence that adolescent-to-parent abuse can be part of a wider cycle of family abuse, and intervention here may stop subsequent abusive behaviours.
Fortunately, more people are now talking about it. Both in the UK and internationally, support agencies are developing intervention programmes to help them respond to the problem, although growth is slow because of limited resources and a failure in public policy to co-ordinate and fund a coherent response at national level. Alongside this has been an increase in research on this issue and we are learning more about which families are particularly at risk, how families respond, and how we might best conceptualise this problem at the psychological, social and cultural levels. Adolescent-to-parent abuse: current understandings in research, policy and practice therefore provides a timely overview of the current state of play in terms of what we know about parent abuse through research findings, how we are responding to it in the statutory, voluntary and community sectors, and what we are doing about it through established support programmes and resources. While this book is grounded in the UK political and cultural landscape, it draws on international research, policy and practices to highlight both similarities and differences, and identifies what we can learn from them and how we can go forward in tackling adolescent-to-parent abuse.
Dr. Amanda Holt is Senior Lecturer in Criminological Psychology at the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth. She has published widely in the fields of parenting, youth justice and families and employs a multi-disciplinary approach to her research and analysis.
Adolescent-to-parent abuse is now available to buy from The Policy Press website with 20% discount.