Teenagers More Frequently Abused Than You Might Think
Thanks to Adrian Peterson and other national figures, the spotlight is currently focused on child abuse. However, what is likely to be overlooked in this discussion about the abuse of children and corporal punishment is that adolescents are frequently the target of physical and sexual abuse as well.
For instance, the father of a 15-year-old boy slams his son into a wall during an argument at home.
A mother of a 14-year-old girl becomes infuriated with her daughter over school work and slaps her in the face.
Another father calls his 16-year-old son a loser and a “retard” because of his lack of motivation at school.
And a 15-year-old girl who was in one of my adolescent treatment groups arrived with bruises on her legs. She reported that her father had kicked her several times because she hadn’t done the chores he had assigned to her.
It’s often during the teenage years that parental patience and calm is strained – often to the breaking point. The teen years are often regarded as a time of great transition, physical change, rebellion, and the turning away from parents and towards peers. It’s not surprising, then, that the probability of abuse tends to increase rather than decrease during these years.
Some statistics suggest that the probability for abuse increases with age and that kids older than 11 are twice as likely to be mistreated than are children younger than six. According to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, more than 300,000 adolescents experience some form of abuse – physical, sexual, or emotional – each year. A survey of high school boys found that one in eight reported physical or sexual abuse. The rates for teenage girls is higher; one in five reported physical or sexual abuse. For the most part, the abuse of teens happens at home.
Unfortunately, much of the abuse of adolescents is hidden and goes unreported.
One reason is because teenagers are often viewed as causing the abuse and rarely are they seen as helpless victims. But there’s another important reason as well. The standards by which our society tends to judge the parenting of teenagers is very imprecise. I frequently talk to parents who would never hit or abuse a young child. However, when that child is as big or bigger than the parent, attitudes and views about force and physical means of control change.
In my experience, the problem of the mistreatment of adolescents has a lot to do with the developmental issues that go on in the teen years. That is, with teenager’s increasing needs for autonomy and independence during adolescence, parents often sense they are losing control.
Autonomy related to friends, dating, school grades, sexuality, and personal habits raises tremendous concern for parents. And verbal and physical abuse can occur related to these specific issues. A parent, fearing the loss of their relationship and their control of their child, may turn to physical and/or aggressive means to try to regain control or bolster their sense of power.
After abuse and mistreatment of a teen has taken place, both parents and that teenager must address some fundamental issues. These include beginning to deal with the parental – and teen – concerns over autonomy and independence. To deal with these issues appropriately there must be communication within the family with open discussion of what it means to both sides when the teen needs to have more freedom and independence.
If conversation can get started, with or without the help of a third party, such as a family therapist, then it is possible that parents and their teenage children can begin understanding each other’s feelings better while addressing new ways to handle on-going problems.