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Young people and family abuse

Young people who use violence against other family members

Similar to the gendered nature of domestic and family violence, adolescent-to-parent violence is predominantly committed by sons against their mothers or step-mothers.

It is also more frequent in single-parent households where women are more likely to be the sole heads of families. But the gendered nature of violence towards women does not tell the whole story.

The dynamics of adolescent violence is often part of a wider context of repeated domestic and family violence in the young person’s life. It is often behaviour they have learned.

There is only a small amount of research into young people’s use of violence in the family home. Young people’s use of violence against their parents, siblings or carers does not fit into current definitions of domestic violence.

Factors that may contribute to the lack of research include:

  • the violence isn’t seen as dangerous as serious injuries are less common
  • the abuse may be considered as ‘incidents’ rather than characterising the entire relationship
  • the abuse may be viewed as temporary with the expectation that younger children will grow out of it and older children will leave home
  • the abuse may be viewed as self-defence or retaliatory
  • there is an assumption that parents cause children’s behaviour and so these parents must be ‘bad’
  • children are seen as victims of their parent’s violence — but we may need to hold a more complex dual position where the young person is seen as both the victim and a victimiser
  • the young person’s behaviour is given a psychological diagnosis — this may be ‘incident-based’ and may not take into context the lived experience of the young person

This information is based on the research of Australian family therapist, psychologist and social worker, Eddie Gallagher.

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