Adolescent Violence and Abuse in FamiliesJuly 01, 2019
There is a lot of discussion about violence between adult partners, but very little about teenagers who are violent and abusive towards other family members.
As a Family Therapist I meet many parents who feel like they are “walking on eggshells” around their adolescent. Who are intimidated and scared of their teen. Parents who don’t invite friends and extended family over for fear of what might happen. Who hide knives or any other object that could be used by their teenager. Who live with holes in their walls and doors off hinges.
If you are one of these parents, there’s a very good chance you are exhausted. You may feel ashamed of the situation but feel helpless to improve it. You aren’t alone. Over the years, I have seen many ‘good’ parents from Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, North Shore and Inner West who’ve come for family therapy because they feel they’ve failed as parents. Some have told me they don’t even like their teenager. Others have been waiting for the police to knock on their door, and for someone to get badly – even fatally – hurt.
Siblings of these teens can also be and feel terrorised. They might spend lengths of time away from the family to avoid the violence and abuse. Parent relationships are often strained, with arguments about parenting styles, and plenty of blaming and shaming.
But what help is there for parents of abusive or violent teenagers?
It’s a good question. We don’t have enough respite, care services, and community support for these families. But a highly trained Family Therapist is a good place to start. Family Counselling can assist parents learn strategies and parenting skills to manage their teen’s behaviour and the family situation as a whole. A Family Counsellor can help parents access other professionals if that’s appropriate. Family Counselling can really help parents feel supported in what can otherwise be a very isolating time in their lives. And, it can save relationships.
Here is what an experienced Family Therapist can do to help the whole family – parents, the adolescent, and siblings: –
- Make an assessment to see if there are underlying mental health illnesses which have not be treated properly. Many violent and dis-regulated adolescents are living with undiagnosed or poorly treated mental health illnesses.
- Work with the adolescent to understand where their behaviour is coming from and help them gain control over their emotions. Sometimes there are external factors contributing to the behaviour e.g. drugs, wrong crowd, being bullied etc.
- Help parents learn parenting skills and most importantly align with each other. This is not only crucial when dealing with an “acting out teen”, it can also help save a marriage or partnership.
- Help the parents to hear and understand what the adolescent is struggling with. And make an action plan around this.
- Help the parents to hear and understand what the siblings are struggling with – and make an action plan so there is less chance of losing them (either now or in the future when resentment can really catch up).
- Help family members with their responses to the start of violence or abuse. Family dynamics can contribute to the escalation of behaviours that can quickly get out of control, so it is important that everyone is involved in learning new strategies.
- Help parents access support and respite care as needed.
- Help parents repair and strengthen their relationship with each and other family members. If you are reading this blog because you have a violent or aggressive teen, you are probably already feeling like relationships are in trouble.
- Help parents make the right decisions with regard to specific and specialised help for their teenager.
- Help parents gain control of their home, family and environment.
- Support siblings.
- Work with the whole family to find out if there are underlying unresolved family issues that are contributing to the problem.
Living with adolescent violence is a lonely, frightening place to be for parents. And it is isolating because what typically happens is the parents stop socialising – they can’t have people over for fear of what will happen – and they can’t go out for fear of what will happen while they are away. I think it is really important that parents find a Family Therapist who is helpful rather than judgemental. And someone who has the skill and experience to help manage the situation and prevent the problem for the family actually getting worse.
Jacqueline has been in private practice for more than two decades, helping individuals, couples and families. She has extensive experience in couple and family therapy and is considered a specialist in these areas.
In her clinical practice, she has helped people deal with complex trauma, affairs, complex mental health issues, eating disorders, adolescent behavioural problems (including self-harm and suicidal ideation), behavioural issues in young children which are impacting parents and families, relationship issues and post-separation work.
Jacqueline works with many different dynamics: couples, parents, families with young children, same-sex couples, foster/adopted families, families with teenagers and also adult families. She is particularly interested in helping parents of children with behavioural issues, or with diagnosed conditions such as anxiety, ADHD, ASD and so on.
Although Jacqueline’s work is supportive and friendly, she will challenge her couples and families to make the necessary behavioural changes, to repair relationships and to move towards healthier communication styles in the future.
Jacqueline’s style is direct and fast paced and she is known for quickly getting to the heart of the matter. Clients report that they feel safe and understood with Jacqueline.
Qualifications and Professional Membership
Jacqueline has a Masters in Couple and Family Therapy (UNSW). She has a Bachelor degree in Counselling and Human Change, and a Diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling.
Jacqueline is a Clinical Supervisor for Counsellors and Therapists. She lectures in couple and family therapy at Masters and Post Graduate level, and is currently Head Lecturer for the Couple and Family Therapy course (Masters) at the Jansen Newman Institute. She has been a Lecturer at the University of Western Sydney and Sydney University, and continues to guest lecture at other tertiary institutions.
Jacqueline is also the Director of the Couple and Family Training Centre where she runs regular professional development workshops and seminars for Therapists, Counsellors, Psychologists, Social Workers and Health Industry Workers who are looking to gain skills in this specialist area.
“Thank you for seeing me today. Your help with all our family issues and all your advice has been invaluable.
I don’t know how other families do it, without a Jacqueline in their lives.” – Anna (43) step-mum and mum to four children.