Aggression or violence towards moms and dads (or other family members) by their kids or adolescents is more common than most people believe and it is something that is usually not talked about. It can involve abusive language, frightening, threatening or physically hurting a parent (pushing, shoving, kicking, throwing things), hurting pets, damaging furniture and property, or threatening with knives or weapons. Whether it is a one-off incident or ongoing, it must be dealt with.
Kids may be aggressive towards moms and dads for a number of reasons. None of the following reasons excuse violent or aggressive behavior, but they may help moms and dads understand why some kids, especially adolescents do it:
- Drugs or alcohol, the loss of a job or a broken relationship can all be triggers that lead to violence.
- They do not know of any other way to solve problems or get what they want (lashing out at someone or something is all they know).
- They have grown up in a household where they have seen adults (sometimes moms and dads or partners) being angry, and using violence towards them or others (this behavior is seen as normal in their eyes).
- They have not learned how to control or manage their feelings, especially angry ones and so just act out without using any self discipline.
- They have not learned to value or respect other people or their property.
- They may be going through a really difficult time and cannot cope with the stresses in their own lives.
- They may have a disability and have not been able to learn other ways of behaving.
- They may have an acute mental illness and be very frightened.
- They may have used drugs that can trigger an acute psychosis and violent behavior.
- They see the parent as weak and powerless (it is often the mother), or they think that this is how women can be treated.
Most moms and dads whose kids attack them in this way can feel very scared, very powerless, lonely, sometimes embarrassed, ashamed and guilty. They feel they have lost control in the home.
• Although taking a tough stand can be difficult it is very important to do. When a teenager is violent toward a parent, no matter how much she might excuse her behavior ("it was really mum's fault, she pushed me to it") she can never feel all right about it. If she is never made to stop, she will probably repeat the same pattern in other relationships or in the work place. It will continue to cause problems in her life and can even lead to problems with the law unless she is stopped and can learn other ways to deal with her anger.
• Be prepared to make some tough decisions, even though your confidence feels shattered.
• Decide on your 'bottom line'. You need to be very clear and carry out what you have said will happen when he has overstepped this line. This may mean your teenager leaves your home either by agreement or by using the police and/or a restraining order. You may find this very hard to do. Get support from someone who understands.
• If the behavior is out of character for your teenager and has started only recently, think about what else may have happened or changed lately. For example, has anyone new had contact with your family recently or have there been changes in the family or with his friends? Has anything happened in these relationships? Is your teenager depressed? See the topic 'Teenage depression'. Has your teenager been taking drugs?
• If your other kids are being harmed in any way by your teenager, you must do something to protect them.
• Look at the situation from your teenager's point of view, no matter how unreasonable it seems. Think about how your behavior (from his point of view) might be contributing to the situation (even if you don't think it could be).
• Notice what your teenager does well and talk to him about it. Adolescents especially do not need reminders of their failures.
• Remember that whatever has happened in your relationship with your teenager, there is no excuse for violence.
• Spend some time supporting what he likes doing if he will let you, eg watching him play sport or listening to his music.
• Taking a tough stand helps to force your youngster to face his violence - he then has the chance to learn other ways of dealing with anger.
• Think about what happens as a fight brews. What are the warning signs? When these signs are present, make sure you separate from each other (you may have to leave the house). If so, take your younger kids with you so they don't become the victims of violence. Talk about concerns only when you are both calm.
• Think about your favorite image of your teenager. Do you still think of her as she was when she was little? You may need to come to grips with the fact that she is no longer a youngster.
• Think what the fights are most often about. Work out what things you are not prepared to move your position on, what ones you are prepared to give way on and what you can leave for your teenager to sort out.
• You need to take some control in your home. You may not be able to change or stop your teenager's behavior, but you can take a stand for what you are prepared to put up with in your home. This is important especially if there are younger kids who may feel frightened and need your help to feel safe.
Violence towards moms and dads or other family members is unacceptable and is recognized by the police as a crime. It is very difficult to make the decision to call the police and possibly have your youngster charged, but you need to keep yourself and others safe.
• You are likely to feel guilt, anger, sadness and fear.
• You may feel that you are betraying your youngster and that this will put his or her future at risk.
Calling the police can help to calm the situation, support you to regain control and begin to rebuild a respectful relationship with your youngster.
What will happen? The police can help to calm an explosive situation or protect other family members. They will give advice and ask what action you want taken, if any.
What action can they take? If you would like the police to take further action the young person will be taken for a formal interview at the nearest police station. The police can the deal with the young person by:
• Arranging a family conference
• Issuing a formal caution
• Issuing an informal caution
• Proceeding through the Youth Court
If the offense is serious the young person can be arrested and taken into custody.
- Kids under 10 years cannot be charged, but police can still be called for assistance and advice.
- If the young person is between 10 and 18 years old, cases are handled within the Juvenile Justice system. The court will decide upon appropriate action if it determined that a crime has occurred. However this information will not be released when a criminal history is requested (eg by an employer).
- If you do not want to take action, police keep the matter on file and it can be followed up at a later time.
- Young people over 18 are considered adults and would be dealt with through the Magistrates Court. If convicted this would be recorded as part of a criminal history and will be released if a criminal history is requested. (An employer can only get a criminal history record if the person agrees to this, but not agreeing may affect employment opportunities).
Regardless of the future impact on your youngster it is important to take action to ensure the safety of yourself and other family members - you all have the right to feel safe.
- Call the police is you or others in your family are at risk.
- Deal with this problem... it won't go away.
- Decide on your bottom line, make it known in advance, mean it and carry it out.
- Find out what works for other people.
- Look after your self esteem... you may feel you have lost it altogether or it needs repairing.
- Speak to someone who understands this sort of behavior and who can support you.
- Take some control.... for the sake of yourself, your teenager and your other kids.
- You can love your youngster but you do not have to put up with all his behavior.
My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents