All children display anger, but when this becomes an ongoing pattern of physically assaulting parents and siblings, destroying property, and threatening further violence to create fear and control, it is recognised as child on parent abuse or adolescent on parent violence (APV).
APV is under-researched in the UK and there is no officially recorded data. However, evidence suggests that it is a significant and under reported problem. A Parentline Plus (2010) survey revealed that the helpline received 22,537 calls from parents who were being abused by their children in two years.
APV poses significant challenges to parents as it reverses traditional familial relationships of power and control. In addition to living in fear of assault, parents who are abused by their children report feelings of shame and blame and are reluctant to report the problem out of a fear of the consequences for their child. There is a lack of knowledge and understanding surrounding APV and little official policy or guidance on the issue. See the Home Office Information Guide. Current responses are inadequate and there is a lack of appropriate support for parent victims.
There is no one explanation for APV. It has been linked with domestic abuse in the family, behavioural problems and conduct disorders, mental health, learning disabilities and substance misuse (see between a rock and hard place for information on APV and substance misuse.) In particular it is most common for adolescent boys to target abuse at single mothers.
Parents can often be reluctant to disclose abuse as they fear it may criminalise their child or reflect on their parenting and lead to their child being taken into Local Authority care. Parents can live with very high levels of fear leading to anxiety, depression, stress and shame. 56% of parents experiencing abuse from their children contacted their GP about the health problems caused.
All professionals working with families in need to treat this as a safeguarding issue for the victims in the family and the abuser themselves. Risk assessments and safety should be a key consideration.
Where programmes exist, they support the parents to assert their parenting behaviour and some also work with the young people themselves to address the behaviour. Where the child or young person also suffers from ADHD, autistic spectrum disorders or mental health problems, they can take place alongside medical interventions. Such conditions are not an excuse for abusive behaviour.