Child-to-Parent Violence: What Is It and Why Does It Occur?

Child-to-parent violence can destroy families. It's essential to find the root cause of the problem in order to put an end to it.
Child-to-Parent Violence: What Is It and Why Does It Occur?
María José Roldán

Written and verified by the psychopedagogue María José Roldán.

Last update: 08 April, 2023

When a family is formed, parents usually imagine an idyllic relationship between its members. Therefore, everything is nice and the relationship between parents and children is healthy and conflict-free. However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes even worse things happen, such as child-parent violence. This is what we want to talk about in the following article. Below, you’ll be able to distinguish it and know whether or not it occurs in your home.

Child-to-parent violence

When we talk about child-to-parent violence, we’re referring to the violence that children exert against their parents. It’s usually males who do it, although, to a lesser extent, there are also cases among the opposite sex. This type of abuse can be physical, material, or psychological.

As it’s abuse, it’s something that occurs on a regular basis in family dynamics. The objective of the children is to maintain control and become the boss. All this generates very serious conflicts that destabilize and can break up the family. In addition, it doesn’t necessarily have to be parents and biological children, but the victim can also be the child’s legal guardian.

A teenager holding a fist to an adult's face.
Child-to-parent violence occurs in the intra-family environment. The child assaults one or both parents and the parents feel controlled and afraid all the time.

What exactly is child-to-parent violence?

Child-to-parent violence can be direct or indirect. As in any other case of abuse in other areas, it can be verbal, psychological, economic, material, physical, or sexual. Also, there are behaviors of control, domination, and intimidation toward the victim, always intentionally and with the aim of having power over that person.

This behavior can cause pain or harm to the victim. What’s more, there may be one or several aggressors within the same family nucleus. At the same time, as it’s something that’s not socially tolerated and causes a lot of shame and guilt to the victim, it’s usually hidden. However, this situation gives even more power and control to the aggressor, so the circumstances will worsen considerably over time.

Why it happens

Normally, the aggressor usually has a profile between 12 and 18 years old. The aggressions are usually against the mother, but there are also cases in which it occurs towards the male referent or both at the same time.

When this situation occurs, it has to do with the development of the personality and dominant behaviors that appear at these ages. Generally, it’s followed by an excessively permissive upbringing or in which violence has been exercised systematically.

Risk factors

There are some risk factors that can cause child-to-parent violence to appear within the family. Some of the most important to consider are the following:

A teenage boy looking aggressively at his cell phone.
In child-to-parent violence, the aggressor has learned to use force on another person to get their own way or to achieve their own goals.

It’s not only a child’s problem

When child-to-parent violence occurs, it’s not only a child’s problem but a family issue. When there’s violence of any kind, it’s experienced in a very negative way among the cohabiting members. In addition, it occurs because there are very severe relational conflicts.

For example, there may be bidirectional violence, where the victim also assaults the aggressor in self-defense. This is a situation that intensifies the conflict and the duration of the conflict. However, the fact that it occurs doesn’t mean that it can’t be treated and modified through appropriate therapy for the whole family.

Emotional consequences

The victim is in a situation over time in which they feel extreme suffering, frustration, anxiety, and fear. Violent episodes can make them feel incapable and there may be collateral damage such as problems with their partner, at work, or with friends, among others.

The victim may also feel guilt, shame, and a sense of failure. Unfortunately, in this situation in which they feel helpless, they may continue the cycle of violence and think that they must defend themselves instead of seeking a solution to the root of the problem. It’s important to remember that a solution to the conflict can be found and that, to do so, it’s essential to seek professional help.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Calvete, E., Pereira, R. (2019) La violencia filio-parental: Análisis, evaluación e intervención. Editorial: Alianza Editorial

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.