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In about 65 per cent of domestic violence cases filed by King County Juvenile Court Prosecutor’s office, the victims are parents. Of the parents who are assaulted by their teen, approximately 70 per cent are mothers.

Mothers who have left an abusive father and are now living with an abusive teen often state that they feel like they are living the same experience they lived with the child’s father. They describe physical abuse, threats, intimidation and emotional abuse by their teens toward them and their other children. Fear, walking on eggshells and avoiding conflict for safety reasons makes it difficult to effectively parent a teenager. Unlike survivors of domestic violence by a partner, mothers who are raising an abusive teen do not have the opportunity to go to shelters, get protection orders or leave the relationship because they are responsible for the care and guidance of their teen (and in most cases, mothers want to continue to care for and live with their teen child). These mothers, and most parents with violent teens in the home, do not know where to turn or what to do for help. They usually think they are alone in their situation and are fearful about exposing their experience. Calling the police is a difficult step for a parent to take and most do not call until they are extremely afraid for their safety or that of younger siblings.

Not all parents of violent youth have been victims of domestic violence. Many have never experienced violence in their lives and are perplexed by their youth’s behavior. While approximately 70 per cent of parent victims in the Step-Up program are mothers, not all victims of domestic violence by a teen are the youth’s mother. Others include fathers, step-mothers and step-fathers, grandparents and other caretakers such as aunts, uncles, foster parents and family friends. Siblings may also be victims of the youth’s violence.

Adolescent violence in the family is serious and sometimes life threatening. The following quotes from parents indicate the level of fear some parents experience living with a violent teenager. Parents made these statements during their intake interview with Step-Up.

I sleep with the door locked and a chair up against the wall."

“I have hidden all the knives and sharp objects in the house.”

“His little sister hides in the closet when he starts to go off.”

“As we were driving down the freeway he grabbed the steering wheel and threatened to steer the car across four lanes of traffic if I didn’t do what he wanted. I was terrified.”

“I won’t leave him alone with his younger brother or sister.”

She has threatened me with a knife."

Similar to adult domestic violence, stereotypes about parents who are victims of their children’s violence exist and make it more difficult for them to get help. Parents are often seen by others as too permissive and unable to set limits with their children. Well-meaning family and friends will advise parents to “not let him get away with that” or “just lay down the law and let her know you are the boss”. Parents often feel they have failed in their parenting role and feel responsible for their children’s violence against them. “Overly permissive” parenting is sometimes perceived to be the cause of the violent behavior, when in fact the parent’s behavior is often a response to feeling afraid of the teen.