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VAWA and Domestic Abuse From a Child



Not very often but it does happen. The child that once was a “good kid” can grow up to become abusive towards their own parents. How does this happen?


It turns out that around the age of 15-16, children enter a developmental stage where they must develop their own sense of identity that is separate from their parents. Many parents call this “the rebellious stage”. It is in fact, a natural and normal stage of development where children must act in a way that is in accordance with how they identify as and an attempt to define clear boundaries and a (psychological) separation from their parents in order to define their own person (identity).


This is a difficult stage for parents who feel that they must have control and that their children must obey rules. Yes, it is ok to have rules, but these must be flexible and adapt to the psychological needs of each adolescent. Some need more or less control than others. Some need more space and privacy than others. And some need more independence and autonomy than others. Parents must adapt to the needs of each child and rules must be flexible.


The most important aspect during this troublesome stage is to maintain a strong connection/ bond between parent and teen where the teen trusts that their parent is on their side and is there to provide support and care, even though they may dislike the rules.


Immigrant parents who have been victims of domestic abuse at the hands of their (US citizen) adult child (over 21 years old) can qualify for a VAWA petition to adjust their legal status. A VAWA petition does not require the signature or support of the US citizen.


There are several factors that can contribute to a child growing up to become abusive towards their parents. Here are some of the factors that can contribute to abusive behavior towards parents:


Childhood trauma: Children who have experienced abuse or trauma themselves may be more likely to become abusive towards their parents as they grow up. Trauma can affect a child's emotional development, making it difficult for them to regulate their emotions and respond appropriately to stressful situations. Children of immigrant parents are particularly vulnerable to bullying, lack of support, and other psychological effects of generational differences between themselves and their parents such as language/ communication difficulties.


Mental health factors: Mental health disorders such as conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and antisocial personality disorder can lead to aggressive behavior and difficulty controlling impulses. Parents most likely had a very difficult time enforcing discipline at home. The child probably exhibited behavior and conduct problems at home and school that were not properly addressed.


Substance abuse: Drug or alcohol abuse can impair judgment, lower inhibitions, and increase the likelihood of violent behavior. Around the age of 15-16, adolescents explore drug and alcohol use. If drug/alcohol use persists, it can give rise to more behavior and conduct problems. It is normal to explore, but drug and alcohol use in adolescents is not advisable as it impacts healthy brain development. Parents are advised to seek counseling for their children if they suspect any drug/alcohol abuse.


Learned behavior: Children who grow up in households where any type of abuse (physical or psychological) is normalized may believe that it's an acceptable way to solve problems or exert control. Children who become abusive may have also witnessed violence outside of the home, such as in the case of gang-ridden violent neighborhoods. They may have observed an unbalanced dynamic and ally with one specific parent against the other. It is important that both parents work together to enforce discipline at home.


Power imbalances: As children grow up and become adults, they may feel a sense of powerlessness in their relationship with their parents, leading to a desire to exert control through abusive behavior. It is important to give children enough independence and autonomy to make their own decisions as developmentally appropriate to avoid any need for over controlling and abusive behavior as they grow up.




There can be several reasons why parents may have difficulty controlling their child's abusive behavior. It's important to note that parents are not responsible for their child's abusive behavior and it's never acceptable to blame them for their child's actions.


Some possible reasons why parents may struggle to control their child's abusive behavior are:


Lack of knowledge or skills: Parents may not have the knowledge or skills to manage their child's behavior effectively. They may not know how to set appropriate boundaries or consequences for abusive behavior, or they may struggle to communicate effectively with their child.


Lack of bonding time: Many times, immigrant parents are consumed by their long working hours. Most of the time immigrants must work low-paying jobs to sustain a large family, spending the majority of their day outside of the home working and missing important quality time with their children. Quality time is important for bonding. Bonding is an important factor of effective discipline.


Fear of their child: If a child's behavior is particularly aggressive or violent, parents may fear for their own safety and avoid confronting their child about their behavior. Many times, children grow up to be much taller and larger than their parents.


Denial: Some parents may struggle to acknowledge that their child is abusive, believing that their child is just going through a phase or that their behavior is not as serious as it actually is. Parents have a hard time defining what are the early signs that a child may become more aggressive or abusive. Parents may not realize until it is too late to change or correct the child’s behavior.


Guilt or shame: Parents may feel guilty or ashamed about their child's behavior, especially if they believe they have contributed to it in some way or is due to their lack of exercising effective discipline. These feelings can make it difficult for parents to confront their child about their behavior or seek help early on. However, there are other factors at play that aren’t in the parent’s control such as mental health disorders and substance abuse.


Lack of resources: Parents may struggle to access appropriate resources and support to help them manage their child's behavior. This could include financial barriers to accessing mental health services or a lack of knowledge about available resources. Most immigrant parents believe that there are no resources available or affordable to them.



If a parent realizes that their child is becoming abusive, it's important to take action as soon as possible to address the behavior. Here are some steps that a parent can take:


Seek professional help: The parent and child can benefit from seeking help from a mental health professional such as a therapist, counselor, or clinical psychologist. A mental health professional can provide an assessment of the child's behavior, identify any underlying mental health issues and provide guidance and support to help the child change their behavior.


Practice Effective Discipline which includes:


Connecting and bonding with child/ teen: Spending time dedicated exclusively to connect and bond with a child increases the effectiveness of discipline efforts. Set the stage for effective discipline by spending quality time with the child/ teen. Asking the child what they like to do, taking an interest in their activities and interests, listening to them, laughing together, and establishing common play and fun activities together are some examples of ways to bond and connect with a child.


Set clear boundaries, rules, and expectations that are developmentally adequate to the needs of the child: Parents should set clear boundaries, rules and expectations for their child's behavior. These should be appropriate to the needs and developmental age of the child. Seek help and support to delineate these healthy boundaries, rules, and expectations. Parents should communicate to the child that abusive behavior is not acceptable and establish clear consequences for any abusive behavior.


Set clear consequences for unacceptable behavior: Healthy consequences can include the removal of benefits such as allowances, electronics, toys, activities, etc. The consequence should be well defined as in explaining the reason for the consequence, what the consequence is, and when the consequence will end. The consequence should be just and appropriate to the offense. Physical punishment is not a healthy consequence. Giving the child/teen a choice for a just consequence can help in modifying the unacceptable behavior. Use natural consequences as much as possible.


Be consistent: It's important for parents to be consistent in enforcing consequences for abusive behavior. Consistency helps the child understand the seriousness of their behavior and helps them learn to regulate their emotions and behavior.


Provide positive reinforcement: Parents should provide a lot of positive reinforcement for positive behavior. This can include praise, rewards, affection, and other forms of positive feedback to encourage the child to continue making positive changes.


Create a safe environment: Parents should create a safe environment for themselves and their child. If the child's behavior is particularly aggressive or violent, the parent may need to take steps to ensure their safety, such as seeking temporary housing or involving law enforcement.


It's important to remember that abusive behavior is never acceptable, and it's never the fault of the victim. Seeking professional help can be a critical step in helping the child change their behavior and prevent further harm. Parents are not always to blame for their child's abusive behavior and it's never acceptable for a child to be abusive towards their parents.


If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, seeking help from a mental health professional or a domestic violence hotline can be an important step towards safety and healing.


Help is available Speak with someone today

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