The social ecology of adolescent-initiated parent abuse: a review of the literature

Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. 2012 Jun;43(3):431-54. doi: 10.1007/s10578-011-0273-y.


This article provides an ecological framework for understanding adolescent-initiated parent abuse. We review research on adolescent-initiated parent abuse, identifying sociodemographic characteristics of perpetrators and victims (e.g., gender, age, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status [SES]). Bronfenbrenner's [1] ecological systems theory is applied, which examines the risk and protective factors for adolescent-initiated parent abuse within micro- (maltreatment, domestic violence, parenting behavior and disciplinary strategies), meso- (peer influence), exo- (media influence), macro- (gender role socialization), and chronosystem (change in family structure) levels. Findings from our review suggest that older and White children are significantly more likely to abuse their parents. Females are selective in the target of their aggression, while males target family members in general. Mothers are significantly more likely to be abused than fathers. However, researchers also report variations in the association between SES and parent abuse. Domestic violence and child maltreatment are risk factors, while findings on parenting behavior and disciplinary strategies are mixed. Peer influence, exposure to media violence, gender role socialization, and change in family structure can potentially increase the risk of parent abuse. Practice and research implications are also discussed. An ecological systems framework allows for an examination of how various contexts interact and influence parent abuse behavior, and can provide needed directions for further research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Domestic Violence / psychology*
  • Domestic Violence / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Peer Group*
  • Psychology, Adolescent*
  • Racial Groups
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Environment*
  • Socioeconomic Factors