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Parent’s Guide to Parental Abuse: What to Do When Your Teen Hits You

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

Let’s talk about a tough topic—parental abuse. It’s more than just conflicts and defiance; it involves subtle control over power dynamics within families. This article will cover the complexities of parental abuse, including warning signs, what factors can cause a child to be abusive toward a parent, and ways to seek help. 

There is hope in every situation.  If you’re a parent experiencing abuse from your own child, know that you’re not alone. 

Our goal is to provide understanding, resources, and support for parents facing these challenges by helping them rebuild healthier relationships and connect with others going through similar experiences. 

What to Do When Your Teen Hits You

What is Parental Abuse? 

Parental abuse refers to a distressing situation where a parent becomes the target of physical, verbal, or emotional aggression from their own child. Child and teen violence can create an unsettling dynamic that challenges traditional notions of parental authority and can manifest in various ways. 

Physical abuse may include hitting, slapping, or other forms of direct harm. 

Verbal abuse involves aggressive language, insults, or threats, while emotional abuse may entail manipulation, control, or constant belittling. 

The reasons behind parental abuse can be complex and range from unresolved issues within the family to the teenager’s struggle with emotional regulation or mental health. Parental abuse not only impacts the well-being of the parent but also disrupts the family unit. 

Addressing this challenging issue requires a compassionate and proactive approach that promotes understanding and healing for both the parent and the teen.

Types of Child-to-Parent Abuse 

  1. Physical Abuse: Involves direct harm such as hitting, slapping, or any physical aggression.
  2. Verbal Abuse: Encompasses the use of aggressive language, insults, or threats towards the parent.
  3. Emotional Abuse: Includes manipulation, control, or constant belittling, causing emotional distress.
  4. Financial Abuse: Involves exploiting or controlling a parent’s financial resources to exert power.
  5. Property Damage: Manifests through intentional destruction of belongings or property as an expression of anger or frustration.

Identify the Warning Signs of Parental Abuse 

Warning signs of parental abuse include noticeable changes in the parent-child relationship, such as increased tension, fear, or avoidance. 

Physical signs may manifest as unexplained injuries or bruises.

Emotional indicators include the parent feeling constantly belittled, controlled, or manipulated. Verbal abuse may be evident through insults, threats, or harsh language. 

Financial exploitation may appear as the child making unreasonable demands for money or possessions, or stealing money.

Parents may also notice property damage or destruction as a form of aggression. 

Recognizing these signs is crucial for early intervention, fostering open communication, and seeking professional help to address the complex dynamics of parental abuse and rebuild a healthier family environment.

Major Risk Factors for Parental Abuse

Several risk factors can contribute to parental abuse, highlighting the complexity of this challenging dynamic.

  1. Family Dysfunction: Ongoing family conflicts, breakdowns in communication, or unresolved issues within the family unit can create a breeding ground for parental abuse.
  2. Mental Health Challenges: When a child struggles with mental health issues, such as conduct disorders, mood disorders, or substance abuse, it can elevate the risk of engaging in abusive behaviors towards their parents.
  3. Lack of Boundaries: In families where clear boundaries are lacking, children may struggle to understand and respect limits, leading to the potential for abusive behavior.
  4. Exposure to Violence: Growing up in an environment where the child witnesses or experiences violence can normalize aggressive behavior and increase the likelihood of it being replicated.
  5. Parental Substance Abuse: Parents dealing with substance abuse issues may face increased vulnerability to abuse from their children, who might exhibit frustration or resentment related to parental substance use.

Recognizing these risk factors is essential for proactive intervention, aiming to address the root causes and create a safer, healthier family environment. 

What to Do When Your Teenager Hits You 

Few parents are prepared to respond to aggressive behavior from their children. Knowing what to do when your teenager hits you can prevent the situation from escalating. The most important reaction is to remain calm. 

Parents must prioritize safety, set boundaries, and communicate assertively about their child’s unacceptable behavior. Parents must also establish consequences for violent behavior while reinforcing positive alternatives.

Caregivers can also reach out to a therapist, counselor, or treatment center experienced in adolescent behavior. Family therapy can help address broader dynamics and encourage open dialogue to understand the root causes and emotions behind the aggressive behavior. 

Seek Help For Child-to-Teen Abuse 

Living with abusive teenagers can create stressful situations for parents and families. If you are ready to support your teen’s journey to a positive change, connect with us at Evolve Treatment. You don’t have to do this alone—we can work together to restore harmony in your family. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Parental Abuse 

Can child-to-parent abuse be prevented?

Yes. Prevention involves early intervention, clear communication, and seeking professional support to address underlying issues.

What are the emotional effects of parental abuse?

Emotional effects can include feelings of fear, guilt, anxiety, and strained parent-child relationships.

Is parental abuse common?

While not widely recognized, parental abuse occurs more frequently than commonly acknowledged, often due to shame or stigma.

Can parental abuse impact the entire family?

Absolutely. Parental abuse can have profound effects on siblings and the entire family unit by negatively influencing dynamics and relationships.

How can parents differentiate normal teenage behavior from abuse?

It’s sometimes difficult to tell, but normal teenage behavior tends to involve autonomy-seeking, while abuse includes persistent, harmful actions that cause distress to others.

Are there legal consequences for child-to-parent abuse?

Depending on severity, legal consequences can include interventions like counseling, probation, or, in extreme cases, juvenile court involvement.

Can parental abuse be a result of substance abuse in the family?

Yes, substance abuse in the family can contribute to increased vulnerability to parental abuse.

Can parental abuse continue into adulthood?

Without intervention, parental abuse patterns may persist into adulthood, affecting both the parent and child.

How can extended family support be enlisted in cases of parental abuse?

Open communication with trusted extended family members can help build a broader support network from those who may not be caught up in the harmful dynamic.

Are there support groups for parents experiencing abuse from their children?

Yes, there are various support groups and counseling services that provide guidance and empathy for parents facing abuse. Reach out to us to learn more.

Can therapy help both the parent and child in cases of abuse?

Yes, family therapy can be highly beneficial and help families address any underlying issues and foster healthier communication patterns.

What resources are available for parents dealing with parental abuse?

Parents managing abusive teenagers can contact numerous organizations or hotlines to find resources, support, and guidance. Reach out to us to start the healing journey.

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