Adolescent to parent violence

What is adolescent to parent violence and how common is it?

There is no legal definition of adolescent to parent violence at present, however, it is increasingly recognised as a form of domestic violence and abuse.  It is defined as ‘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’. This may also involve children below the age of 16.

Although most people know about domestic abuse less attention is given to adolescent violence and its impact on the family. 

Adolescence is the time between childhood and adulthood.  It is normal during this time for adolescents to challenge parents and authority and exhibit anger and conflict, this is different from violent behaviour.

It is estimated that between 3 and 27% of families experience some form of adolescent violence.

Violence or anger?

Anger is an emotion. Violence is often about control and power. 

Adolescent violence is behaviour used to control, dominate, threaten or coerce a parent or sibling.  It can include any of the following:


  • spitting, shoving, hitting or kicking
  • throwing or breaking items
  • punching holes in walls or doors
  • bullying or physical violence to siblings
  • cruelty to pets.

Emotional, psychological and verbal

  • verbal abuse and intimidation
  • whispering campaigns
  • playing mind games
  • making threats to hurt or kill themselves
  • making threats to run away
  • threats on social media
  • e-violence.


  • demanding money or items
  • stealing money or possessions
  • incurring debts.

Violence from adolescents is not a normal part of growing up.  Most adolescents will ‘act out’ in some way at some time during their adolescence, when this behaviour is controlling, threatening, or intimidating it stops being ‘normal’.

Adolescent violence is a complex issue, particularly when adolescents have experienced family violence themselves, suffered grief or loss or have an illness or disability. 

Why do some adolescents act violently?

It is often difficult to understand why your adolescent is being violent.  Some explanations may include:

They may have witnessed or experienced domestic violence or abuse to a parent in the home or been influenced by any of the following:

  • societal exposure to violence
  • ideas about the role of women and sex role stereotyping
  • availability of pornography
  • peer group pressure.

Adolescents may be violent due to:

  • an over-developed sense of entitlement
  • a lack of respect for women
  • having been bullied at school
  • experiencing trauma such as war or bereavement
  • misuse of alcohol or drugs
  • mental health issues
  • having been abused themselves

Parenting practices that may contribute to adolescent violence include:

  • feeling you should sacrifice everything to make your child happy
  • compensate for the situation at home (if a lone parent ) by being generous with money and items
  • giving the adolescent too much freedom
  • parenting practices that are authoritarian
  • being unavailable to your child (either physically or emotionally)
  • conflicting parenting styles.

When to know if you have experienced violence

You will know when things are not right. You may have experienced adolescent violence if:

  • you are afraid of upsetting the adolescent and change your behaviour to prevent this
  • you are ‘walking on eggshells’ trying to predict your adolescent’s wants and needs
  • your adolescent physically hurts you or his or her siblings or pets
  • damages family possessions
  • your adolescent ridicules, humiliates or embarrasses you, your family or friends
  • your adolescent threatens you that they will leave home if you do not do what they want.

Most parents have difficulty accepting that their child is violent towards them.  You may think your child’s behaviour is part of growing up or dealing with stress, you may also think that the behaviours are just normal mood swings.

As with domestic violence and abuse from an ex/partner, abuse from a child or young person can cause health and wellbeing issues such as anxiety, depression, stress, loss of sleep or physical injury.  Chronic stress might impact on your ability to concentrate at work and you may need time off.

You may experience the additional cost of counselling, legal fees and fixing damage to property caused by your adolescent, this can increase financial pressures.

Impact on everyone


Adolescent violence often leads to arguments in the home.

Impact on siblings

Many adolescents who are violent to their parents are also violent to their siblings, this may mean their siblings are unsafe or at risk of harm.

You or other family members may feel:

  • alone and isolated.
  • solely responsible for the situation.
  • helpless and unable to control the situation 
  • despair about the disharmony in the home
  • unable to talk or think about anything else
  • they are constantly living in fear
  • unsafe in the home
  • upset at the loss of friends and family who stay away.


  • you may feel unable to trust your adolescent, especially when you are not at home to supervise
  • the loss of friends and family
  • grief if your adolescent has had to leave home.


Violent behaviour won’t go away on it’s own and generally gets worse over time. 

  • You don’t have to understand  why things are happening to enable change, even small changes may improvement the situation.
  • Violence may occur in cycles or as isolated incidents. 
  • Adolescents may apologise after an incident, giving you a false sense of hope. They may even try to change their behaviour but it is hard.
  • Violent behaviour is the responsibility of the adolescent.
  • Violence is never an acceptable way for the adolescent to solve difficulties.
  • Adolescents often blame their parents for provoking them or not giving in to their demands
  • You may not want to report violent behaviour to the police but this may be the only way to stop the behaviour.
  • It is better for everyone if the violence stops. 

Coping strategies

Look after yourself: You may feel exhausted and unable to relax

This is not your fault: Everyone makes mistakes, life itself is an imperfect process full of disappointments and difficulties and children need to be able to cope with these.

Try not to take it personally: If your child is struggling it may be because of issues that are beyond your control.  Try to find out what the issues are, you can then try to support and alleviate their fears.

Separate the behaviour from your adolescent: You can still love your child but not like their behaviour.

Ignoring violent behaviour: If not addressed, the violence or abuse could increase and become a life-long pattern; help them break the pattern.

Communication aids: Try to find different ways to communicate, especially if the adolescent has a disability that impacts on their communication

Positive comments: Rather than responding to negative behaviour find time to show your appreciation when they are doing well.

Acknowledge their feelings:

“I know you’re really angry”, recognises the fact without criticism

“What would help you now”, offers support but does not have to be agreed to

“I’ll see what I can do and we’ll talk about it later” also shows support

Use a gentle approach before trying to talk about what is wrong.

What feeds the anger : Triggers may include school pressures, bullying, friendships, mental health, family breakdown, or illness. Talking through and  listening without judging, interrupting or directing them may help them to talk.

Help develop self-strategies : Helping your teen to understand the triggers and what to do when they are angry is crucial to help them deal with it.. When things are calm talk and find out what they think would work to help them manage their emotions and find a different outlet for their feelings.

Give them space  : Recognise that your teen may not know how to deal with difficult feelings.  This is especially important for young people with autism or sensory overload.

Get support for yourself - Find out what support is available at the end of this leaflet.

Seek support from school - The pastoral team may be able to support with strategies used in school.

Other useful ideas

It is best to make changes when you are feeling emotionally strong.  Think about what you should reasonably expect from your adolescent:

  • Be clear about what behaviour is reasonable and unreasonable, make two lists.
  • You may decide it is reasonable for your adolescent to wash the dishes two nights a week and that it is unreasonable for your adolescent to swear at you.Use ‘I’ statements - ‘I will be very upset if you are not home by the agreed time’.
  • Clearly state expectations to your adolescent - “I need you to speak respectfully to me, f you swear at me, I will not  take  you to your friends” or “ I will not tolerate you breaking possessions, your pocket money will be used to replace broken items”.
  • Your adolescent may try and negotiate – don’t feel bullied into changing your expectations.
  • Choose two or three expectations, behaving responsibly is a good start.
  • Explain to your adolescent that you love them but will not tolerate being abused.
  • Try to keep a sense of humour.

Think about what consequences you can introduce to support your expectations:

  • consequences must be relevant and important
  • decide how and when to use any consequences
  • explain to your adolescent you will follow through with consequences if necessary.

Some examples of consequences:

  • withdrawal of privileges i.e. internet access, TV, or mobile phone
  • ‘grounding’ in general or stopping your adolescent staying the night at a friend’s house
  • reducing or stopping pocket money
  • help out with extra household chores.


It is often difficult to start using a different approach and your adolescent may rebel against any new approach, so things may become worse before an improvement is seen.

Your words lose all impact if you don’t follow through.  If you make threats that never happen (or only half happen) then your adolescent will not take you seriously.

Ignore the behaviours you can live with. Choose your battles.

Your responses

It is important to consider how you respond. 

It is hard to tell an adolescent not to smoke if you do.  Similarly if you swear or use violence it is highly likely that despite what you say your adolescent will feel justified to also behave in the same way.

  • Think about how you respond to your adolescent’s behaviour – does it make them angrier or calm them down?
  • Don’t fight fire with fire - never use violence with your teen, you are giving them the message that it is okay to use violence to solve disagreements.
  • Understand what your adolescent says or does to make you angry – know your own triggers.
  • Be quiet and calm – not angry. (This can be hard).

There are no ‘winners’ or ‘losers’, the aim is to build a more harmonious family life.

Always treat your adolescent with respect no matter how angry, disappointed or frustrated you are.

Recognise when you are stressed.  Think about how stress affects how you as a parent and how this affects communicating with your adolescent.

If you or your family members’ safety is threatened

If you try to make changes and your adolescent’s behaviour worsens and you or family members feel unsafe you need to put safety before using consequences or other strategies.  If you are unsafe walk away and leave the home if necessary.

If your adolescent’s behaviour escalates it is your right to call the police.  The police have been working with many families on adolescent to parent violence and abuse and understand the impact.

Everyone, including parents, has the right to feel safe.  Your other children have the right to feel safe too.  Calling the police is one of the strongest consequences but it is often one that works. The police will respond in a positive and helpful manner.

Preparing a safety plan

Sometimes an adolescent’s violence may mean family members’ safety is at risk.

In the event of a crisis you may have to leave home in a hurry.  It can be useful to have a plan. A few suggestions for preparing a safety plan are:

  • think about where you could go and who could support you if an emergency arose
  • carry a list of numbers e.g. police, family members, support services
  • ensure you have access to a phone or a mobile
  • keep some money aside in case you need a taxi, train or bus
  • keep a spare set of house and car keys in a safe place
  • ensure other children in the household can use a phone and know emergency numbers.
  • keep notes or a diary with dates and brief details about the violent episodes (these may be needed in the future as evidence)
  • know your legal rights and the rights of your child so that you are clear about the full range of options available to you, even if you choose not to take legal action

Call the services listed at the end of this booklet for more information and to discuss your options.

For those who support the parent

Emotional support

If someone experiencing adolescent violence confides in you or you suspect they are having difficulties, there are a number of ways you can offer support.  These include:

  • express your concern
  • listen without minimising, blaming or judging
  • offer practical support . Ask: “How can I help you?” or “Let’s think how to increase your families safety ”
  • try not to criticise their management
  • respect their privacy and keep all information confidential unless they give you permission to tell others or you feel someone is at risk of harm
  • encourage parents to care for themselves and to consider their own needs
  • stay in regular contact.

Support the parent to make their own decisions.

Practical support

Practical support can help someone make the necessary decisions to take control of the situation.  Practical ways to assist include:

  • encourage them to think about making a safety plan
  • help find helpful resources or information
  • accompany them to counsellors or other services.

Avoid doing the following:

  • confronting the adolescent as this could lead to further complications and may increase family conflict
  • suggesting solutions or giving them your own opinions.

Getting involved does not mean you have to solve the situation.  If someone turns to you for help and support it means helping them find their own answers.  It is important not to be disappointed if they do not do what you think they should.

Regaining control and looking ahead

Adolescent violence to parents is still very much a taboo subject. 

Breaking through the isolation and secrecy is the first step in restoring trust and healing the relationship with your adolescent.

Often the adolescent will blame you or others for their behaviour and refuse to take responsibility for their actions.  They may see it as ‘your problem’ and often will refuse counselling or other help.

Adolescents need clear and consistent rules and expectations to feel safe and secure, by holding the adolescent accountable for their actions you are teaching them how to behave and respond appropriately.

By caring for yourself and seeking help you will regain confidence that you are going in the right direction.  Work on your own behaviour and responses to help effect positive changes in your adolescent’s behaviour.

It may be useful to participate group programmes or seek individual advice as a couple or access family counselling to explore ways to keep you and your family safe, look after yourselves and stop the violence.

The sooner you take action the sooner things will improve.

Useful national services

The following services will treat you with respect, ensure confidentiality and provide advice and support.

Domestic abuse services

National Domestic Violence Helpline: A 24hr service offering advice and support to anyone experiencing domestic violence and abuse. Tel: 0808 2000 247

The Survivors Trust 0808 801 0818

National Victim Support helpline.  Tel: 0808 1689 111
Live chat available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The service is anonymous, confidential and free to use.  To access it please visit the Victim Support website or visit the Victim Care website.

Men’s Advice Line – Advice and support for male victims of domestic abuse.

Tel: 0808 8010327 (helpline)

Gallop National support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people experiencing domestic abuse.

Tel: 0800 999 5428 (helpline)

Family Lives (formerly known as Parentline Plus)

A national charity offering help and support in all aspects of family life.

Tel: 0808 800 2222 (helpline)

Live online chat with staff

Email support

Holes in the Wall – wealth of resources for parents

Family Rights Group – A national charity offering advice to families who need extra support from Children’s Services.

Relate – Information leaflets and support for parents of teenagers. Tel: 0300 1001234 

Ministry of Justice

Local services

You First

Integrated Domestic Abuse Service in Dorset County area



Tel  0800 032 5204

Poole and Bournemouth outreach

Bournemouth: 01202 547 755
Poole: 01202 710 777

Victim Support

An independent charity who provide one to one support for all victims of crime, including support for male and female victims of domestic abuse.
Southwest Victim Care Unit.  Tel:  0300 3030 163
Live chat - this is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The service is anonymous, confidential and free to use. To access it please visit the Victim Support website or visit the Victim Care website.

The Shores

Dorset SARC (Sexual Assault Referral Centre)
Providing a comprehensive service to men, women and children who have been raped or sexually assaulted.
Tel: 01202 552 056


A voluntary organisation run for men, women, young people and children who have been raped or sexually abused.
Tel: 01202 308 855

Services for young people


To get help and advice about a wide range of issues.

Tel: 0800 1111

WAVES (The Children's Society): Tel: 01305 768768


A voluntary organisation run for men, women, young people and children who have been raped or sexually abused.
Tel: 01202 308 855

Safe DATE: Support and guidance on relationship abuse, sexting and consent to help you make the right decisions and stay safe.  

The Hideout

A space to help children and young people to understand domestic abuse, and how to take positive action if it's happening to you.

The Site

An online guide to life for 16-25 year olds. Advisors available 24hrs a day


YoungMinds is the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.


Emergency numbers

24 hours 7 days a week

Emergency Services Tel: 999


Crisis intervention & counselling, support & information for those experiencing feelings of distress or despair

Tel: 08457 909 090


Telephone counselling for children & young people

Tel: 0800 1111

NSPCC(National Child Protection Helpline)

Child Protection

Tel: 0808 800 5000

National Domestic Violence Help Line

National support & refuge referral

Tel: 0808 2000 247

This information was produced by Forensic CAMHS. We wish to acknowledge the Kent and Medway Domestic Abuse Strategy Group for allowing us to adapt their publication for use in Dorset.


Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS)