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What is violence?


Everyone has a different definition of what makes up “violence.” You will have a different definition from other workers, as well as from how mothers and young people view violence. How your service defines violence has a great impact on the service you provide, how you work with families and which families you work with.

For example, one mother attending counselling spoke about a time her son was waving a knife around the kitchen while yelling at her to give him the Wi-Fi password. I asked her what it was like for her to experience that violent episode. She replied, “I wouldn’t say it was violent. He was just being silly.” So, it is important to have a unified definition of violence everyone agrees to.

How you define violence will set a course for how you and your service support adolescent violence instances. Some definitions of violence focus solely on instances of physical violence of children/adolescents towards predominantly mothers.

These definitions of violence stem from mostly surveys and court documents (Peek et al, 1985; Kethineni, 2004; Gebo, 2007; Walsh et al, 2007; Boxer et al, 2009). The issue with definitions of violence that rely solely on instances of physical violence is that they do not value experiences of emotional or verbal abuse.

Other definitions of violence focus on a pattern of behaviour used to gain power within the relationship. This pattern is called “coercive control” and reflects the use of violence to gain power within a relationship (Downey, 1997; Holt, 2011; Wilcox, 2012; Sheehan, 1997; Simmons et al, 2018). This definition is most representative of patterns and belief systems evident in adolescent–to–parent violence.

Focus on Incidents of Physical Violence

Fist punching

Amanda Holt (2011) argues that a focus on physical violence does not reflect the complex dynamics within the relationship and devalues the mother’s experience. Also, a focus on court reports and physical violence can skew research towards more extreme behaviour and higher rates of boys using violence, which are not reflected in wider surveys (Simmons et al, 2018; Edenborough et al, 2008; Calvete et al, 2014; Hunter et al, 2010; Sheehan, 1997 & Downey, 1997). So, rates of adolescent violence for boys and girls are difficult to fully measure and compare.

The main issue is that definitions of physical violence do not focus on a pattern of abuse, but only on specific incidents of violence. In terms of support, only focusing on instances of physical violence is a small fragment of adolescent–to–parent violence.

Consider the words you wrote down in the previous step:

  • How many words relate to physical violence?
  • How many relate to emotional or verbal abuse?
  • How many words relate to financial abuse or breaking property?
  • Keep your responses in mind for the rest of the week.
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Understanding and Tackling Adolescent to Parent Violence

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