The Power Struggle, 2.0, has a lot of the same tug-of-war feelings as that of parenting a toddler or younger child. Your son or daughter is seeking autonomy and independence. What's different? Apart from age, your teen's language and reasoning skills have developed further for one. In fact, you might be "enjoying" some choice vocabulary these days.
Your son or daughter's world has expanded. Peers, social media and school environments now share the sphere of influence with family life and culture. What's more, your teen is going to naturally and increasinglydraw from this world outside of family and explore different opinions, interests and even personas.
Their interest in thrill-seeking and novelty is also growing. Your teen might not see what the big deal is about staying out after curfew or lying about their whereabouts. Actually, a frequent source of Power Struggle is often parent safety concerns versus teen desire for a potentially risky or novel experience. While this stage of development might be difficult for parents, rest assured it is typical and healthy.
What To Do
Most parents are surprised to hear my top recommendation is not to avoid the Power Struggle. Why? Well, given the brief summary of typical development above, to tip-toe around a teenage Power Struggle or dismiss it is akin to not letting your child learn to walk on his or her own, or learn to manage bathroom activities independently. You want to support your teen's drive for autonomy and independence. So yes, engage in the Power Struggle. Do not, however, encourage the defiant tone of the Power Struggle. Arguing in an abusive or hurtful way should not be tolerated. The bottom line is that teens need to learn how to challenge their parents without it being a personal attack.
How to Encourage an Appropriate and Respectful Power Struggle
- Model It - The Earlier The Better. As our children grow they are forever taking unconscious notes on social interactions from their family members, especially parents and caregivers. For example, mom and dad have a disagreement. Rather than shouting or a silent treatment - model discussing your perspectives calmly in a balanced and respectful give and take conversation.
- Set The Boundary - And Hold It. When you find your teen flirting with a defiant tone and challenging your rules or requests, neutrality is key. While you might feel all your buttons pushed, do not display a reaction (save that for when you're on your own). Instead, calmly state that the discussion will only continue if your teen is respectful and calm. If it's not possible in that moment, let them know you can revisit the topic later. You decide - unless your teen can collaborate respectfully- where and when to resume. The most important part of this is: Follow Through!
- Collaborate and Compromise, If Possible. This can be a hard pill for parents and caregivers to swallow. While you might feel anxious at the idea of your teens challenge to, say, borrow the family car - I invite you to take a deep breath and consider the long term goal. You want your teen to grow into a responsible, independent adult. These opportunities to practice those qualities are best practiced within the scaffolding of the parent and family system. Practice some self-care and then lean-in to this new phase of your child's development. Set clear expectations and consequences if they are not met. Your teen just might surprise you.
- Gratitude and Praise. Once your son or daughter is able to respectfully challenge you and the discussion is had, praise them for their maturity and highlight how adult they are becoming by behaving in this way. Encourage them to discuss whatever they wish with you, even if you do not agree with one another.