Research indicates that adolescents who use violence against their mothers are at higher risk to use violence in future relationships. Moreover, young people who have both witnessed domestic violence and are currently using violence towards their mothers are the highest risk to use violence as an adult. However, working with young people and mothers with this presentation is a major gap area in service provision.
The purpose of this brief article is to highlight how Leia Mackie and I work with adolescents and mothers to stop violence in the home. We can work together to support these families and have a positive impact not only on their relationship, but also on young people’s relationships with their future partners and children.
Addressing violence through behaviour, trauma and attachment work
The program I work in is called ReNew. Over 20 weeks, Leia and I work with adolescent boys and their mothers to stop adolescent-to-mother violence in their homes. We have found that violence will not reduce without a range of interventions. It is crucial to remember that these young people are not “perpetrators,” but victims of domestic violence who have experienced their own trauma and have their own attachment needs. Moreover, mothers are not making parenting decisions in a vacuum and their story needs to be valued and respected.
Yes, we address violence in the home and hold young people accountable for their behaviour. However, the key of the program is understanding how domestic violence has impacted the family and how we can rebuild the attachment between mothers and sons. Through joint activities and relationships building, we see many violent behaviours reduce and mothers become more confident parents. These families have extremely complex needs, which requires a multilayered response. Simply working with young people in isolation, with a strict behaviour focus, will not lead to sustained growth.
Breaking down shame and engaging young people in the process
Mothers who have experienced domestic violence, and are currently experiencing adolescent-to-mother violence, is the lowest help-seeking group. Shame of failing as a mother and admitting that their son is being violent keeps mothers from support programs. Moreover, young people see violence programs as code for counselors to tell them that they are perpetrators and they are on the road to turning into their fathers.
We have found that the key is to take the focus off past relationship ruptures and focus on how we can work together to rebuild the family. We let both mothers and young people know that even though they will face challenging activities, we are all working together for a common goal. Ultimately, mothers and sons all want the same thing. Everyone wants the relationship to improve and our job is to guide them along the path in a safe and nurturing environment.
Dave Burck and Leia Mackie will be facilitating a Workshop on ‘Working with adolescents who have witnessed & use violence against their mothers’ at the Child-Centred Approaches to Ending Family Violence conference in Melbourne this August. Book soon to secure early bird rates.