Abusive Relationships

What to Do When a Child Abuses a Parent

Types of Parental Abuse

Parental abuse is a subject not often discussed. It is generally accepted that children are younger and smaller than their parents, which makes them weaker. However, some children have learned how to manipulate and abuse their parents. Causes can include family dynamics, societal values and mental disorders, according to the Canadian Children's Rights Council. Children can abuse their parents physically, mentally or financially.

Seek Help

If you are in immediate danger, call 911 or your local police department. Keep these numbers on speed dial at all times. If you are dealing with an ongoing abusive situation, call the National Parenting Hotline at 1-855-427-2736. You will speak with a trained advocate and they can help you find local resources. You may also get referrals from your doctor, therapist, women's center, women's shelter or family resource center. Don't feel embarrassed. Everyone's situation is different. Trained professionals aren't there to judge you; they are there to provide resources.

Involve your Loved Ones

You may feel ashamed, like you failed your child, but you are not alone. A lot of parents are going through the exact same thing. Talk to trusted family and friends and ask for help. Have them nearby when you are handling your child, especially on a touchy subject. For example, if you child gets enraged that you want him to stay home on the weekends, have some family or friends over during such times. Even if you lose the argument, you will be physically safe because there are a number of adults in the home. In extreme situations, it may be necessary for the child to leave the home for a period of time. Sometimes this is what they need to rethink their actions. Discuss this with the involved parties as well as with your family therapist.


Gather family and friends and hold an intervention. Use your family therapist, if appropriate. Talk to your child about what he is doing and how it makes you feel. Give him time to express his feelings, as well. Family and friends should share how they have been impacted by the relationship and what they would like to see change. Make your expectations clear and explain the consequences. This can be anything from limiting funds to sending your child to stay with other family members.

When to Intervene in a Teen's Verbally Abusive Relationship

Checking for an Abusive Relationship

Parents need to look for signs of emotional abuse before intervening in a teenager's relationship. During the teenage years, it's common for young couples to argue as they learn how to set boundaries and respect someone else's limits, according to the Boston Children's Hospital Center for Young Women's Health. But a teenager who constantly criticizes or puts down your child, argues with her frequently, blames her for his problems, or screams at her is behaving in a verbally abusive manner. Take note of the incidents you witness, including the specifics. You will need these when you intervene in the relationship.

When to Intervene

Occasionally, your teenager might have fights with his girlfriend that cross the line. But if his girlfriend is frequently verbally abusive, you should approach him as soon as you notice a pattern, according to Healthychildren.org. While you might want to intervene as soon as your teenager's partner says something abusive, this criticism of your son's girlfriend could lead him to become defensive. Arrange for time alone with him to discuss the problem, maybe saying, "I noticed that Jill screamed at you the other day when you mentioned working on a project with Lisa at school." Let him decide whether and when he is ready to talk.

When and How You Can Help

Your teenager might start opening up about the verbal abuse she has faced after you approach her. If so, keep moving forward with your intervention. Tell her that the verbal abuse has to end and, if it doesn't, encourage her to break up with her partner, according to Healthychildren.org. Arrange for your daughter to travel to and from work or school with someone, and to change her schedule at school or work as soon as possible. You might also want to notify your daughter's teachers, principal, employer or the police of the circumstances right away.

Additional Help

It is not uncommon for teenagers to repeatedly leave and go back to an abusive partner, according to KidsHealth, a child development site. While this can be frustrating, insulting your child's partner or coercing him into leaving his girlfriend will yield poor results. Instead, encourage her to seek a mental health expert right away. Family counselors or child therapists can help teens who continue to pursue an abusive partner. You can also contact a counselor at your child's school or your child's doctor for a referral to a professional who might be able to help.

Detecting Emotional Abuse in a Teen Daughter

Signs of Emotional Abuse

Changes in your daughter's attitude and behavior might be among the biggest clues that her partner is emotionally abusive. She might cry frequently, become depressed or anxious, show insecurity or indecisiveness when making decisions, or she might worry about her partner when they are separated, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Feelings of low self-worth might also surface in a teen facing an emotional abuser, according to the Center for Young Women's Health. Some girls become fearful in a boyfriend's presence, fearing saying or doing the wrong thing in front of him.

Methods of Emotional Abuse

Parents might not witness a boyfriend being emotionally abusive to their daughter. Your daughter's boyfriend might tease or bully her, such as making comments about her weight or poking at other insecurities he knows she has, according to KidsHealth. Parents might also notice that a daughter no longer talks to members of the opposite sex, or that her boyfriend calls her frequently. A boyfriend might order your daughter around, show a quick temper or monitor her online and offline activities, according to the Center for Young Women's Health. Guilt trips, such as telling your daughter, "If you loved me, you wouldn't talk to other guys," might also be used by an emotionally abusive person, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Figuring It Out

If you are concerned about your daughter's relationship with her boyfriend, consider asking some family members and friends whether they have noticed anything unusual. Find a quiet time to share your concerns, but criticizing her boyfriend might put her on the defensive, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Instead, you might want to say, "I have noticed that your boyfriend puts you down often, then claims he's joking. I'm really worried about you." This can give your daughter the opportunity to talk.

Additional Information

Your daughter might not be interested in admitting emotional abuse, or she might have no interest in talking to you about it, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Suggest that she talk to her school counselor, doctor or another trained mental health worker. If you feel that your daughter might face physical danger from her boyfriend, contact the police about your suspicions.

What Parents Need to Know About Their Kids Being in an Abusive Relationship

Power and Control

Abuse of an intimate partner is primarily about power and control, according to Break the Cycle, a dating abuse prevention program. Dating violence tends to escalate over time as the perpetrator uses abusive behaviors to exert power over and control a dating partner. It can include physical abuse, such as hitting, shoving, kicking, biting or using a weapon. Sexual abuse can include rape or coercion. Verbal and emotional abuse may include stalking, threats, insults, humiliation or intimidation. Same-sex partners are also subject to dating violence and abuse.


One of the cardinal signs of an abusive relationship is isolation. The perpetrator often seeks to separate the victim from her friends and family. He may insist on it being “just the two of us.” He will pick fights with her friends or otherwise discourage them from spending time with the victim. He might insist that the victim not tell her parents about the relationship, monitor her emails and phone calls or threaten her if she does not instantly respond to a text message.

Other Signs

Other signs that your child may be in an abusive relationship may be subtle. She may seem quiet and more withdrawn, or she might become angry if you ask how she’s doing. You may notice that she never spends time with her friends, only her boyfriend. If she is experiencing physical abuse, she may have scratches or bruises and make flimsy excuses about what happened. If she is constantly checking her cell phone or email and gets upset when you ask her to turn it off, the perpetrator may be using technology to monitor or harass her.

Health Issues

In addition to the physical and emotional pain from abuse, your child is at risk for a number of health problems. Futures Without Violence reports that teen victims of physical dating violence are more likely to smoke, use drugs, develop eating disorders, engage in risky sexual behaviors or attempt suicide. They may also be more likely to use alcohol at a young age or to become pregnant. If you think your child may be in an abusive relationship, talk to her as soon as possible. If necessary, enlist professional help.