Parenting a teenager is always difficult, but what happens when a teen becomes an abuser? Dr. Jessica Eckstein, professor of communication & media arts at Western Connecticut State University, is doing a large-scale study on the difficulties and stigma surrounding adolescent-to-parent abuse that make it difficult for abused parents to get support.
Dr. Eckstein is working with her colleague Dr. Nancy Brule, Chair of the Department of Communication at Bethel University in Minnesota. Dr. Brule has been studying adolescent to parent abuse from a communications standpoint for almost the past ten years. “Since most of my work is stigma-based, this seemed like a natural fit,” said Dr. Eckstein.
Drs. Eckstein & Brule are working with a large number of students at colleges throughout the Midwest to conduct a survey on how the general public feels about adolescent-to-parent abuse. “We have students use their social networks to distribute the open-ended survey…another group simply forwards a web survey link to everyone they know,” said Dr. Eckstein.
Eckstein has already completed one research survey in New England using the same methodology. The survey showed that abused parents face considerable stigma at every turn, often more so than victims of other forms of abuse.
Parents are often “victim blamed” and told the abuse is the result of bad parenting. “Society holds the parent more responsible than they do the perpetrator,” said Dr. Eckstein.
However, the worst stigma comes from those who are supposed to help victims of adolescent-to-parent abuse. “Parents typically report that it’s not the ridicule from their friends, family, and strangers that bothers them. It’s when they do the ‘right thing’ by going to seek professional support – counseling, lawyers, doctors, law enforcement, rehab specialists, etc. that they almost always encounter a blatant lack of support…and possibly blame and misunderstanding by the counselors themselves,” said Dr. Eckstein.
Abused parents are often funneled into “family” treatment options that treat the abusive teen and the parent as equal parties as opposed to options more appropriate for a perpetrator/victim relationship. “No professional would pair in the same counseling were it a wife & husband,” said Eckstein.