Parents’ experiences of being abused by their adolescent children: an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis Study of Adolescent-to-Parent Violence and Abuse
Clarke, Kerry Rose
Background: Adolescent-to-Parent Violence and Abuse (APVA) continues to be one of the most hidden forms of family-abuse, remaining unrecognised at a policy level and under-researched at a theoretical level, especially in the United Kingdom. Although research has started to emerge, much of this has focussed on mapping the nature and extent of the phenomena with limited attention given to parents’ lived experiences of parenting in the context of the adolescent child-to-parent abuse dynamic, which this study attempts to address. Given the complexities of accessing parent-victims of APVA, qualitative researchers have employed somewhat innovative methods, though Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) as used within the present study has been relatively overlooked having not been previously used in the UK, highlighting the need for additional research from wider perspectives into the area. Aim: With this in mind, the current study aimed to explore the lived experience of parents who describe being violently and/or abused by their adolescent child to gather a richer understanding of how adolescent-to-parent violence and abuse impacts upon the parenting experience. Method: This research employed a qualitative design using semi-structured interviews with 6 parents (5 mothers and 1 father); the majority of whom were in their early to late 40’s. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was used to develop a rich and multi-layered account of participants’ experiences. Results: The analysis produced four superordinate themes. These were: ‘Not knowing and the search for answers’: Needing to understand, ‘“I love him but I don’t like him”: Facing and avoiding complex emotions’, ‘“Like playing chess with the grand master”: Parenting amidst abuse’ and “I won’t be defined by fear”: Temporality and seeking change’. The superordinate themes and corresponding subordinate themes are discussed in relation to the relevant literature. Clinical implications, methodological considerations and directions for future research are also presented. Implications: This research provided insight into the lived experience of being a parent within an APVA dynamic. The research highlighted the challenges faced by parents as they maintain parental responsibility for a child who is perceptibly abusing them and the ways that the current systems and absence of policy serve to maintain this dynamic. It also emphasised the importance of how parents seek to identify causation as a way of negating parental blame and the associated experience of shame which emerged as underpinning wider complex emotions, particularly fear. It also highlighted the need for timely and specific guidance, support and interventions to parents who experience this unique yet increasingly reported form of family-abuse from a Clinical Psychology and wider professional perspective.