Adolescent to parent violence – hearing from the young people themselves.

Exploring adolescent violence and abuse towards parents: the experiences and perceptions of young people, Victoria Baker. A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Central Lancashire, August 2021.

Much work exploring child and adolescent to parent abuse comments on the difficulties inherent in hearing from the young people themselves, skewing the literature towards an interpretation of the phenomenon through a particular lens. Sometimes parents feel uncomfortable putting their children forward, sometimes agencies express concern that it would be inappropriate or potentially damaging, sometimes ethical factors around risk preclude the involvement of these voices in research. As a result, there is a focus on the point of view of parents and practitioners, and an important aspect of understanding and analysis has been absent up to now.

Dr Victoria Baker’s PhD thesis, published in 2021, represents “the most in-depth examination of young people’s accounts of violence and abuse towards parents to date, exploring the forms it takes, the people involved, its causes and contexts, and its impacts. It also generates new insights into how it might be prevented or addressed.” Indeed, it is full of firsts, including also being the “first UK study to take a focused look at the patterned physical and non-physical aggression towards parents using a survey and the first to apply a threshold for what ‘counts’ as parent abuse for this age group” (14 – 18 years).

Despite being a relatively small sample (and there is considerable discussion about the problems both in achieving a larger group for research and in drawing conclusions from this sample size), there is still significant material for providing new insights and learning around the way that young people understand their use of violent and aggressive behaviour, the impact it has on their own lives as well as those around them, and possible routes for prevention and change. There is emphasis on the multiple factors affecting young lives (rather than looking for specific individual causes), a useful discussion about intention, and some helpful mapping of gender issues. ‘Space’ is mentioned as a particular issue, both in contributing to escalation and in enabling improved relationships – a factor which has been foregrounded during the last two years of the pandemic and lockdown in particular. Of note also is the focus on the harm caused to the young people through their use of abusive behaviour, and their own concerns about shame, guilt and wanting to find a resolution. Some of the barriers to engagement in services identified by the participants also go some way to answering the question, “what if the young person won’t engage?”

The work concludes with a series of recommendations for both future policy and practice, and for future research. High on the list is the need for a more consistent and explicit definition of parent abuse, and a scheme for measuring prevalence, to avoid the inclusion of one-off incidents, retaliatory violence, and what might be termed more normal teenage behaviour. We have been calling for these for many years. We have to hope that each year brings the answer nearer!

Please do take the time to read this in its entirety. An important work, bringing timely new insight to the field.

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