If your teenager acts in an abusive way towards you, you’re not alone. Help is available for this underreported type of domestic abuse.

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Domestic violence doesn’t occur just between partners, or even just between adults.

If your child or teenager is abusive towards you — whether physically, emotionally, or financially — you may be experiencing a form of domestic violence.

If a child is violent or otherwise abusive towards you, you may hesitate to classify the behavior as abuse. Is your teenager just being, well, a difficult teenager?

Child-to-parent abuse (CPA) isn’t typical, though it’s likely underreported. This is in large part because of an ingrained cultural belief that anger, sullenness, and moodiness are hallmarks of adolescent behavior.

Experiencing CPA can also bring on feelings of shame, leading people to live longer with the abuse in secret.

You don’t have to live with abuse. There are resources to help you, outlined here.

Child-to-parent abuse occurs when a minor child (under age 18) or young adult (between ages 18–25) living in your home abuses you physically or verbally, emotionally, or financially in an effort to dominate or exert control in your space. You may feel powerless to do anything when it happens.

The abuse may be violent and physically aggressive, but may also be more secretive, involving threats or coercion. But the pattern of cruelty signifies abuse.

One study looking at 60 years of available research on CPA found that anywhere from 5–21% of families are affected by physical CPA.

In 97% of CPA cases, the mother was the person being abused, 83% of the time by a son, according to research. Daughters are more likely to use emotional or verbal abuse tactics than sons.

The different types of child-to-parent abuse

Abusive behavior can manifest in many ways, including:

  • Physical: Your child may hit you, throw things at you, damage your property, or harm family pets.
  • Verbal: They may taunt you or call you names.
  • Emotional: Your child may threaten you with harm to you or to themselves if you don’t do what they want. They may intimidate you by following you around or relentlessly texting you.
  • Financial: Your child may steal money from you or rack up credit card debt on your accounts, or they may demand a large sum of money if you don’t do something they want.

Risk factors

Domestic violence

Children exposed to domestic violence in their homes — often partner to partner — are more likely to be violent or cruel towards their parents as adolescents, according to research.

A 2017 study also found that CPA was more likely in study participants that came from families affected by domestic violence.

There was also an increased risk for CPA when a court or psychiatric clinic referred participants for a study, pointing to the correlation between CPA and criminal activity or mental health conditions.

Understanding that CPA is also a form of domestic violence may open more doors for intervention, both between adults in a household and between you and your child.

Antisocial behavior

Antisocial behavior or a lack of empathy towards others at home and especially in other situations, like school, can be an indicator that your child may also be violent toward you.

If your child’s teachers, coaches, or other authority figures report that your child is aggressive towards them or to their peers, or shows a lack of empathy in social situations, pay closer attention for signs of emerging or active CPA.

Mental health conditions

Some mental health conditions seem to coincide with CPA, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and depression. However, not all children diagnosed with these disorders will be violent.

Reactive attachment disorder and conduct disorder are also common diagnoses related to the phenomenon of CPA.

You may be experiencing CPA if certain factors are true for you:

  • You’re changing your behavior to accommodate your child’s behavior or in response to threats.
  • Your child is violent towards you. All children will act out, but violent behavior that puts your safety or that of others at risk isn’t normal.
  • Your child threatens violence towards you if you don’t do what they want.
  • Your child threatens suicide if you don’t do what they want. Take all threats of self-harm very seriously, even if you suspect that they’re a form of manipulation.
  • Your child threatens others or is cruel to household pets, or both.
  • Your child’s school reports that your child is rude to their teachers or has little to no social interaction with their classmates.
  • Your child threatens to call in a professional — a social worker, a therapist, the police — if their demands aren’t met.
  • You feel like you’re walking on eggshells to maintain the peace between you and your child, or between your child and other members of your household, like other children you may be protecting.

Living with and overcoming an abusive situation requires professional and sometimes legal support.

Individual therapy

Speak to a therapist about what you’re experiencing. Therapy may help you come to terms with what you have experienced in your own home and help you plan ways to stay safe.

If you need help finding a therapist, start here.

Family therapy

Family therapy focused on strengthening familial bonds and teaching non-aggressive disciplinary methods can help empower you to understand that your child’s abuse isn’t normal and to adjust your own responses to your child’s behavior.

Here are resources for finding a family therapist near you.

Support groups

The blog Raising Devon, written by a woman who experienced CPA, contains resources for finding a support group for other parents experiencing violence from their children. If you’re interested in starting a support group, here are some tips for doing so.

Juvenile justice programs

Programs like Seattle’s Step-Up, which conducts teenage family violence interventions, exist in many cities and counties.

If your child’s violent or coercive behavior has led you to call the police and the court system is involved, becoming part of a program like this can help you and your family access individual and family counseling, create safety plans, and educate you and your child about what’s happening.

For legal and therapy purposes, discreetly document all the problematic interactions you have with your teenager.

Creating a safety plan

If you’re afraid for your physical safety or that of other family members, try to leave your home and get to a safe place immediately, then call 911 or a trusted loved one.

If things haven’t escalated to that point, it’s still a good idea to have a safety plan. You can use this tool from the National Domestic Violence Hotline to create one.

A safety plan includes:

  • where to go or whom to contact for shelter
  • a list of important things to pack, like documents and technology
  • how to get pets and children out of harm’s way

Remember that this situation isn’t something to feel ashamed of. Help is available, and this doesn’t have to be your reality forever.

Reach out to a few close family members and friends to let them know what’s going on. Acknowledging the situation is a good step forward, and your loved ones will also be a solid support system for you as you navigate next steps.

Aggressive, coercive, cruel, and violent behavior isn’t normal adolescent behavior and can be a sign of CPA.

You can access help if you are being abused by your child. If your child’s situation requires more than individual or family therapy, there are juvenile justice and even residential programs available to help them and to help you stabilize your home.

Raising Devon has many articles on CPA that you may find informative or relatable.

Don’t give up hope. While it’s normal to feel shame, know that this abuse isn’t an outcome of poor parenting.

You can feel safe in your home again, get your teenager the help they need, and eventually can work on building a safe and healthy relationship with them.

Get help for domestic violence

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