Exploring the issue of parent abuse as a social problem

Currently, there is little awareness of the issue of parent abuse or the abuse of parents by their children, amongst academics, practitioners and law and social policy makers within the United Kingdom. Parent abuse differs significantly from the usual ‘growing pains’ experienced during childhood and can take many forms including physical, emotional, social and ?nancial abuse, and in rare cases sexual abuse. Key characteristics of parent abuse include tactics of control in order to gain power. The impact on families where parent abuse is occurring is significant, and is exacerbated by lack of public awareness, and absence of state responses to the issue. Parents who experience parent abuse often experience shame and stigma in relation to being abused by their own child, as there are societal expectations that parents should control their children. The evidence that does exist suggests that parent abuse has a 5-18 per cent incidence rate within families. The main victims of parent abuse are thought to be mothers, and the main perpetrators teenage boys. However, parent abuse can and is experienced by fathers, and committed by teenage girls also. Significantly, it is thought that up to a third of boys who commit parent abuse have experienced domestic abuse as a child.

Dr Helen Baker’s work is part of an emerging interest in, and awareness of the problem of parent abuse within families in the United Kingdom. Her work has both highlighted the emerging issue of parent abuse within society and the need for an appropriate response framework from law and social policy makers for parents who experience it, and for children who commit it. Significantly, Dr Baker’s work highlights the need to carefully consider teenage boys who have experienced domestic abuse as a child, and to be careful not to detrimentally label all these young men as ‘potentially violent’ simply because they are male and due to their previous experiences. She argues that we need to question how we view masculinity and its relationship to violence, as it is not a given that all young men will grow up to become abusive towards their parents. Dr. Helen Baker argues for non-punitive responses for children who abuse their parents, with an emphasis on education in order to change their problematic behaviours and attitudes.

In April 2014 an important seminar on this topic was held at Edge Hill University co-hosted by the Criminology Research Group and the North West Branch of the British Society of Criminology. At this seminar Dr Baker spoke about parent abuse as a ‘new’ social problem. Other speakers were Dr Amanda Holt of Lancaster University and Simon Retford of Greater Manchester Police. Helen Bonnick of the blog ‘Holes in the wall’ led the discussion. If you are interested in this topic please contact Dr Helen Baker at: bakerh@edgehill.ac.uk. 


  • Baker, H. (2012) ‘Problematising the Relationship between Parent Abuse and Teenage Boys: Constructions of Masculinity and Violence’, Social Policy and Society, 11(2) 265-276.
  • Baker, H. (2012) ‘Exploring How Teenage Boys Are Constructed in Relation to Parent Abuse’, Criminal Justice Matters, 87(1) 48-49.
  • Baker, H. (2009), ‘‘Potentially Violent Men?’ Teenage Boys, Access to Refuges and Constructions of Men, Masculinity and Violence’, The Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, 31(4) 435-450.