Parents Abused by Their Children: How to Act

The phenomenon of parents being abused by their children is a reality that's growing every year. Why does it happen and how should we act?
Parents Abused by Their Children: How to Act
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 12 July, 2023

Unfortunately, parents being abused by their children are a reality that’s growing every year. These frightened parents, full of guilt and shame, keep silent about what’s happening at home. Meanwhile, the situation worsens and causes great suffering to all members of the family. How is it possible to reach these extremes? What can be done in such a situation?

It’s estimated that about 14% of children between 13 and 18 years old have exercised some kind of aggression or violence against their parents. In many cases, this is psychological or verbal abuse, which is less visible but equally worrying. In addition, the difficulty in identifying that they’re being abused is compounded by the parents’ feeling of failure because they’re experiencing such a harmful relationship with their child.

All of the above means that, on most occasions, these parents take too long to take action. The fear of recognizing the situation and seeking help causes this family dynamic to become entrenched. However, it’s important to understand the origin of these behaviors and to know that there are possibilities to reverse them.

Abused parents: How does this reality originate?

A teenager being verbally aggressive with his father.

Lack of limits

Every child and every young person is different, as is every family. Therefore, the reasons that can trigger the reality of abused parents are diverse. One of them, and perhaps the most widely recognized, is the lack of limits.

Terms such as “tyrant child” or “emperor syndrome” are becoming more and more widely known. This occurs when, in the absence of clear rules, the child takes the place of the parents and imposes their will by means of threats or tantrums.

It’s indisputable that children need limits in their education, as this provides them with stability and security, and helps them to form a healthy personality.

However, it’s essential that these rules be fair, clear, and consistent. In other words, they must be applied coherently and from a relationship of love, respect, and consideration. When they’re not present, family roles are blurred and children don’t learn to tolerate frustration.

Intolerance to frustration

Overprotection is another of the points that most generates abusive behaviors in children. When, from childhood, children haven’t been provided with the tools to tolerate the negatives and frustrations of life, they can’t be expected to know how to do so.

Therefore, children feel that everything must happen as they expect it and that all their desires and expectations must be satisfied. If this doesn’t happen, they become angry and react aggressively because they haven’t learned to manage these scenarios in a healthier and more assertive way.

Models of violence

At the same time, on many occasions, the tendency of children to react with aggressiveness and violence is a product of the models they’ve observed while growing up.

If physical or verbal aggression is common or accepted in the family, this remains in the behavioral repertoire of children as something they can resort to. Imitation is one of the most powerful learning models.

How can abused parents act?

To address this issue properly and find a solution, it’s important to remember that there’s no blame. Abused parents should never feel ashamed of what they’re experiencing, as we all do the best we can.

A young girl lifting her fists in the air and clenching her teeth.

That said, prevention will undoubtedly always be the best strategy. Establishing a secure attachment bond with children reduces the risk of violence emerging in the family. A child who grows up feeling loved, respected, and contained by their parents, who has received attention, affection, and consistent limits will be very unlikely to end up resorting to physical or verbal aggression.

However, when this situation has already occurred, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. With proper psychological attention, most families are able to correct the situation and adopt healthy dynamics. Keeping silent and allowing abuse only perpetuates the child’s sense of superiority and the parents’ sense of helplessness.

Finally, if the experience is critical and the integrity of any of the family members is at risk, seeking justice will be necessary. Boundaries must begin to be firmly established, even if this involves a decision as tough as this one.

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.

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