Adolescent to Parent Violence or 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’.
The cross-Government definition of domestic violence and abuse is any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse. While this definition applies to those aged 16 or above, APVA can equally involve children under 16, and the advice in this document reflects this.
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. 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 behaviours3. 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. 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.