I am not referring to what is sometimes called “elder abuse”, the situation in which seniors are abused by their adult children or caregivers (paid, family, or volunteer).
I am referring to the increasingly common situation in which teenagers mistreat their parents, usually behind closed doors, in the home. The abuse behaviors include: hitting, name-calling, destruction of property—or instilling the fear that property will be destroyed if the teen does not get their way, stealing from the parents, hurting family pets, misuse of credit cards or other personal/financial information, disregard, dismissal, and disrespect not only of the parent’s authority, but of the parent as a person.
These behaviors do not constitute regular teenage rebellion. I am not sure if there really is such a thing as “regular teenage rebellion.” Abuse, however, goes far beyond what is typically considered “regular.”
If you have reached this point with your teen, you know it.
You will know it when you don’t want to wake up in the morning and face what your teen may do (or what they did last night). You will know it when you hesitate to have friends over because of how your teen may act with guests in the house. You will know it when you are sleeping behind locked bedroom doors, with your car keys under the pillow. You will know it after multiple police contacts, damaged or destroyed property, bruises, slaps, or punches.
You know it. Yes, you do.
You have tried counseling, of all sorts. You have tried taking things away---and may have been struck or name-called for doing so. You have tried “family conferences.” You have tried giving the teen “just one more chance to do the right thing.” You have tried what is sometimes called “tough love.” These attempts at settling the situation have failed completely, or have not created consistent results.
The teenager you are struggling with may be kind, respectful, and pleasant around others. At home, it’s a different story. It’s a living hell, and it is one from which you see no escape because the law requires you to support your teen until they turn 18.
What can do to help yourself in this situation?
If you have not already done these things, please:
1) Keep a journal, a written record, including dates/times/locations of what is happening. Keep the journal hidden in a safe place, or keep it stored outside and away from the home. Take photos of injuries or property damage. Save the photos on your phone or camera.
2) Call the police when criminal level injuries or property destruction occur. Request that a report be written. Do not be content with the officer taking the teen aside for a “talk.”
3) Share with other family or trusted friends what is going on. Send emails to people explaining your desire to share what is happening and ask for their support. An email is a time/date stamped record of your attempt to gain help and support from others.
What do all of the above have in common?
You have to put aside enough of your pride to admit to yourself and others what is going on and to ask for help.
You have to be strong enough to know some people will always blame the parent for whatever may be wrong with the child. Know this, and reject their flawed thinking. No one has been a perfect parent, and you do not deserve to be abused or mistreated by your child.
Your child may need psychiatric care. Your child may need to be housed elsewhere for a while, or permanently. If you have other children living in the household, think about their well-being and their need, desire, and right to grow up in a peaceful environment.
Perhaps your marriage or parenting partnership with the child’s other parent failed. Do not allow your child’s anger or dysfunction around this issue lead you into a guilt trip and the acceptance of outrageous behavior. Acceptance of craziness only makes the sane crazy and the crazy even more dangerous!
You have to put aside enough of your pride to accept that you are not responsible for all of the decisions your teen makes. In many cultures around the world, a 15 or 16 year old is an adult, not a child. When someone is old enough to call you out of your name, destroy your property, or strike you, you are not truly dealing with a “child” anymore. Yes, the law considers them a “minor”, but they are not a “child.”
You have to put aside enough of your pride to accept that some people will always look at you with negativity if you admit your child is out of control and you cannot manage their behavior. Do not let this stop you from taking steps to assure your own safety (physical, emotional, and mental) and the safety of others in your home.
You have to accept that, as a society, we are behind the times on dealing with teens abusing parents. There is no government or social service agency that wants responsibility for an out of control teen. The problem is often thrust back on the family.
There are many, many influences on your teen. Some of these influences are beyond your direct or indirect control. This is a fact.
You have to accept that many “professionals”, such as counselors, school staff, clergy, court staff, etc., simply have no solutions for you. They may even attempt to convince you to accommodate the behavior in some way. Some professionals may judge you, thinking (and perhaps saying directly to you), “Oh, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, does it?”
Is there any hope at the end of the tunnel? There is always hope, but you may not have the outcome you want or that you feel entitled to have.
Name and accept that an abusive teen is an abusive person who is committing domestic violence. Many teens are larger and stronger than their parents and have no hesitation in using their size or strength to control, intimidate, or threaten. That’s called domestic violence. It’s not for boys only; teen girls can be equally abusive.
Learn what the laws are in your area. Seek legal advice, or go to a bar association legal referral service for a free consultation with a family law attorney. Resist the temptation to strike back or hit unless you are in fear of your life and personal safety. Often teens will manipulate a parent into hitting, and then tell authorities the parent initiated the abuse and is dangerous. Outright lies are sometimes told to and often believed by authorities. Be careful.
There is no set formula for handling the abusive teen situation. Know your limits, understand your obligations--present and future—to yourself and others in your home, and determine that no one---not even your child—has the right to abuse or demean you.
Most of all, do not allow yourself to be shamed into silence. If you are living with an abuser, that experience is hurting you and costing you and others probably already sense something is wrong.
Ask for help. Do not allow anyone to tell you this is something you have to live with. Seek, seek, and keep seeking until you find help or can get the abuser removed from your home.
Beware of family members and similarly related folks who may try to minimize your situation, look the other way, or act as if there is no problem at all. Their denial is too expensive for you to buy into. They can go home when they get tired of, or frustrated with, your teenager. Where can you go?
Don’t worry about ruining your family’s “reputation.” Your courage in speaking up is an act of faith and seeking help may encourage others to do the same. If nothing else, you will sleep better at night because you have been honest with yourself and the world about what is going on in your life. The pressure of keeping up appearances will have been put aside.
Do these types of things happen to Christians? Yes, they do. Being a Christian does not exempt anyone from problems and challenges common to the human experience. Christians, however, are enabled to handle things differently. That is why we often have different outcomes. We are enabled to handle situations with honesty, with God-given guidance, and with determination to seek peace and live peacefully.
And, as always, pray. Be willing to follow whatever directions you are given. Follow those directions. Kill the shame and pride that keep you from telling your story and getting the help you need.