Could your teen abuse you?

The huge gate had been set up to keep the danger out. Now the danger had found its way inside. He struggled with her. Arms and hands clashed as they fought.  He wasn't able to pass her, so he slapped her, pushed and clamored his way through. Nothing was going to stop him from getting out – not even his mother.

*Felicia Herman is a single unemployed mother of two adolescent boys aged 16 and 19 and a teen daughter. Both her sons are drug addicts. She is traumatised. Life is a constant battle and her house is merely a place to live in and survive.
“I don’t have a kitchen to speak of as they’ve stolen my kitchen sink and taps to sell,” says a distraught Felicia “There aren’t any doors on my cupboards.”

Felicia’s at her wits end. Rehabilitation has not helped her sons. In fact, she says she's tried every avenue she could think of to help her boys. She simply does not know what do next or where to find help.

Like Ellen Pakkies, recently given a suspended sentence for her son’s murder, Felicia is an abused parent.

How common is parent abuse?

There’s a general misconception that parent abuse is not a usual occurrence, yet most large-scale studies suggest that up to 14% of parents are physically assaulted by their adolescent children at some point.

According to criminologist Karen Booyens at the University of Pretoria, parent abuse includes physical as well as verbal and nonverbal threats.
“Parent abuse also involves threatening to use or using a knife or gun in an impulsive or situational episode against a parent or parents,” confirms Booyens.

At times the violence is so unrestrained that it results in very serious injury and even the death of a parent or parents, referred to as parricide.

“Parents don’t openly say they’re being abused. The abuse is subtle and usually occurs generally because of defiance against doing chores and excessive demands for service and or concrete things from parents,” says Fouzia Ryklief, national director of the Parent Centre.
Most parents have difficulty accepting that their teenager is abusive and they may deny the problem, confirms Fouzia.

Are teens under pressure?

It’s assumed that because some teens experience violence and victimisation at their schools, they may act out their victimisation and rage with abusive actions at home. There’s no substantial evidence that substance abuse causes violent behaviour, yet many parents report that when their teens are using drugs or consume alcohol their behaviour is more abusive.

“There seems to be a correlation between substance use/abuse by children and abuse of their loved ones. The abuse usually takes the form of psychological and emotional abuse. Only in rare cases do we hear of physical abuse,” explains Imraan Muscat Senior Social Worker at the Cape Town Drug Counseling Center in Observatory, “The user may try to make the parent feel guilty and manipulate them in order to continue their drugging.”

Muscat advises that parents or family members need to be aware of what to expect when a family member starts using substances and find the appropriate way of dealing with the situation to safeguard themselves as well as their loved ones.

 How does South African Law protect parents?

The Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 was introduced to protect people from any form of abuse in a domestic relationship. “Domestic relationship” means a relationship between a complainant and a respondent. This includes being the parents of a child or are persons who have or had parental responsibility for that child. Physical abuse, threats, theft, and damage to property are criminal offenses with which abusive teenagers can be charged.

“Not many cases like these have been exposed or brought into the attention of the public,” says Carl Botman a Senior Legal Counselors from Legalwise.
Child welfare agencies usually have a mandate to protect children from harm. They don’t often have the resources to help in situations of parent abuse.

Both Felicia’s sons were jailed for robbery and ended up in Pollsmoor. Her troubles start each time they're out on parole. The situation has become so out of control that the neighbours are affected. “There are other parents in my street who are going through what I am experiencing,” says Felicia. “I am struggling and there seems to be no way out.”

Not all abusive teens come from an unstable home life. Parent abuse can occur in any family, is associated with any socio-economic class, ethnic background, or sexual orientation. What may be considered typical teenager behavior could in fact be abuse.

What can parents do about abusive teens? Does the law protect them enough?

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