Adolescent violence in the home: How is it different to adult family violence?

This article was originally published on the Australian Government website: Australian Institute of Family Studies, Child and Family Community Australia on December 8th 2015.

Jo Howard describes the issue of adolescent violence in the home, and how it differs to adult family violence.

Adolescent violence in the home has many similarities to family violence, but there are some key differences.

Adolescents who abuse their parents use similar strategies to violent men to gain control and power. They often coerce, threaten and intimidate, destroy property and possessions and physically assault their parents. Global research indicates most victims are mothers and most offenders are males – a gendered presentation similar to adult family violence (Howard 2011). However, female adolescents are also offenders and fathers and other family relatives may be victims.

Violent adolescents may have experienced family violence as children. Some may be struggling with issues such as problematic substance use, mental health issues and school disengagement. Some may not have other issues or have siblings that have never been violent. All, like adult family violence offenders, have a sense of entitlement and gain benefits through this – consumer goods, money, abrogation of responsibility and in kind benefits such as being driven around. It is common for both adult and adolescent offenders to lack empathy for their victims. Violence against others is never acceptable, however responses to adolescent violence need to be mindful that offenders are effectively children and consider their protection, safety and developmental needs, as well as their offending behaviour. Whilst adult offenders are frequently removed from the family home, this should be a last, rather than first resort in the case of violent adolescents. Similarly, criminal justice involvement should only be called on when community responses, such as individual and family work, do not improve family safety. Parents report criminal justice involvement is often the last resort because they fear their adolescent may risk a criminal record and/or negative educational and career outcomes as a consequence (Howard, J.,  & Abbott, L, 2013).

Most responses to adult family violence do not focus on maintaining relationships and connections, as the safety of women and children is the priority. Violent adolescents are at a crucial developmental stage, where family relationships and connection make a vital difference to their outcomes. Effective interventions therefore need to focus on maintaining family connections and on adolescent wellbeing and safety, within a context of family safety.

Work with adolescent violence in the home has a key focus, like work with violent men, on offender responsibility and accountability for the use of violence. Workers need to be aware of the possibility that adolescents will minimise, justify or deny the use of violence and blame their victims. At the same time, workers need to be mindful that adolescents may be victims of abusive or harsh parenting, or family violence. Family healing and ‘making amends for harms done’, as espoused by restorative processes (Anderson & Routt, 2015), can support sustainable change. Adolescents may not have the maturity to clearly identify, articulate and deal with an array of emotions and this can result in reduced capacity to problem solve, self-sooth and resolve conflict. Adolescents may also have difficulty separating emotions from behaviours. Responses to adolescent violence therefore need to focus on facilitating these skills

Addressing adolescent violence in the home is an important step in preventing intergenerational cycles of violence, in helping young people to thrive, and ensuring that families remain safe.

If you are experiencing family or domestic violence or sexual assault, or know someone who is, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit the 1800RESPECT website.

Further reading and resources


Anderson, L. & Routt, G. (2015), Building respectful family relationships: partnering restorative practice with cognitive-behavioural skill learning, in Holt, A (2015), Working with Adolescent Violence and Abuse Towards Parents, Approaches and contexts for intervention, Routledge Press, UK

Howard, J. (2011).  Adolescent Violence in the Home:  The missing link in family violence prevention and response.  Stakeholder Paper 11, Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse, Australia.

Howard, J. & Abbott, L. (2013). The last resort:  Pathways to Justice.  Adolescent violence in the home, Peninsula Health, Victoria




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