Parents — just like anyone else — can be abused by a child or teenager. A young adult is just as capable as inflicting emotional, verbal and physical abuse, but it is often misunderstood or minimized because of the teen’s age. Age can be deceiving and is no indication of a person’s ability to inflict harm or damage another person’s life — even their parent’s. Teens can abuse and be abusing parents at any time, and no one may know unless the parent speaks up.

A parent who is being abused by their own child, whether it be a teen or even a younger child, may feel a sense of shame. As a mom or dad, you may think, “I should be able to handle this. Just because my child hits me or yells at me, I shouldn’t feel ashamed.”

But teenagers who are being abusive — hitting, threatening, intimidating, name-calling, shoving or more — need to understand the ramifications of their abusive behavior toward an adult. Just because that adult happens to be their parent doesn’t forgive or excuse the criminal behavior.

If you are suffering abuse at the hands of your son or daughter, it may be helpful to understand these tips:

Your safety is important

It is easy to believe that sacrificing yourself to protect your child is the “right thing” for a parent to do. But your safety is just as important and cannot be sacrificed to protect your child. If you’re seriously injured or, as the result of an accident, become hospitalized or worse, you will not be available to raise your child.

Make a safety plan and yes, call the police if necessary. It does not mean you don’t love your child. We all want to protect our children but that protection can not be traded against personal safety. Everyone has a right to feel both physically and emotionally safe.

You are not alone with this

Although the problem of parent abuse isn’t often talked about, it does exist and apparently is becoming increasingly common.

Rely on your inner strength and wisdom to guide you toward the best answer for your family. Consider all available resources to you. Some of these include: therapy or counseling, evaluation and medication, if appropriate; temporary respite, (BoysTown) drug/alcohol testing, if appropriate; mediation if your teen is willing to acknowledge that s/he is responsible for his/her own violence and the necessary steps to re-establish trust and safety in the home, anger management workshops, talking with trusted friends, etc.

Rely on yourself and your friends

Although you may want to keep this issue to yourself, that is the worse thing you can do. You need to rely not only on yourself, but also on your friends, family and support network. Although not everyone may understand or appreciate the seriousness of this issue, some of your friends and family will. Those are the ones you need to turn to at this time.

Do something. Anything. Marshaling your inner strength will help you do something; it might be learning more about parent abuse, interviewing therapists, finding a support group, etc. Just doing something can help you banish the feeling of powerlessness that often comes with parent abuse.

It will take time to fix this

Understand that turning the problem around will take time. As you experiment with different resources, allow time to determine if what you are trying is really for you. If not, why not? For example, what kind of therapist do you think would work best with your family? Is it someone that values a collaborative approach? Someone that has more traditional positions on family roles and responsibilities? It is important to look for a good fit that feels comfortable.

Present a united front

Parent must join together in a united front to successfully confront parent abuse. Parents and other care-givers can work together on solutions for managing the problem of parent abuse whether it is directed at one or both parties. Parents can only work together if they talk to one another to understand the full extent of the problem. Now is the time for trust, not accusation, especially if the parents are no longer together. Adults will do many things, but they won’t lie about something as serious as parent abuse at the hands of their own child.

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Help your teen understand what you expect. Consider the use of behavior contracts and family meetings. Remove privileges when necessary and spend time together doing things you both enjoy.

For many parents, parent abuse feels like the outcome of a job not so well-done. Many parents feel like the abuse means they have failed themselves and their children. When you start beating yourself up about the way you are being treated by your teen, it may be helpful to remember that you are not your child’s only or sole influence. Your children encounter many people and experiences that happen completely outside of your relationship with them. Maybe you didn’t have a part in causing what is happening now, but you do have some power to direct how your relationship will be going forward. Choose to use it as best as the situation allows.