Power Struggles with Teens

Whose Power is it Anyway?

“Mom, we’re going to the mall, we’ll be back at 11!” “Not so fast, young lady, your curfew is 10 o’clock, or have you forgotten?” “But, mom, everyone gets to stay out ‘till 11, it’s so LAME to have to come home at 10.” “I don’t care, you’re coming home at 10 or you’re not going.” “Fine!” “Fine.” End of power struggle – parent victorious!

Yes! You knew it! You knew you were more powerful than your crafty teen and you proved it, and they storm off, defeated and mumbling under their breath. Hurray! You win!

Alright, Parents, raise your hands, who has had this experience, or one like it, with your teenager?

Now, you know, of course, what Part Two of the discussion is and when it takes place, right?

Ring. Ring. Your cell phone rings at 9:58pm. You know who it is and you know whose butt isn’t going to be home at 10. “Hello?” “Yeah, mom? Well, like we were at Cindy’s and her mom’s car wouldn’t start, so we walked over to Ashley’s and her dog puked on the floor, so we had to clean it up because her dad wouldn’t let us leave until we did and so now I’m not gonna be home ‘till 10:30, okay?” End of power struggle – kid victorious!

What do you do? What can you do? The kid is simply not going to be home at 10 o’clock and that’s all there is to it. You have absolutely no power to make that kid get themselves home on time. You feel helpless and defeated and it makes you angry, so you yell or you cuss or you threaten bodily harm as soon as they walk in the door, none of which will get that kid home on time tonight, but yet, you cannot let them ‘win,’ so you sit and plot your revenge…

When your little sweetheart waltzes in at 10:42, completely unaware of any problem whatsoever, then you pounce! “You’re grounded!” “You will not see the light of day for a week, young lady, and no phone privileges, either. And no computer while we’re at it, too!” Aha! End of power struggle – parent victorious!

Later that evening, up in her room, your daughter lights a joint, curses you under her breath, and strategies her next move. And on and on and on it goes until both parent and child ultimately lose everything. They lose their temper, their cool, their good mood, their relationship, and their hope. Losers all the way around. It’s miserable. Power struggles always end badly.

So, how do you avoid power struggles? Be very realistic about who actually holds the power. When you think about it, who holds the power over whether or not your teen skips school or smokes pot or has sex or listens to rap music? When you honestly realize that your teen actually holds that power, you will stop struggling with them over it and you will acknowledge that you simply cannot make them go to school or take a shower or put their dirty laundry in the washing machine.

However, you still do have control over other things that they’re willing to bargain with you about. You still control your car and your time and your wallet. You can decide whether or not you will let them have a job outside of school and you can allow them to have a door on their room or take the door off the hinges if you prefer. If you own the computer and the phone, you can decide who can use it and when and you most certainly don’t have to buy any special cereal or shampoo or bubble gum when you grocery shop.

You can’t make a teen stop cussing, but you can refuse to pay for a class ring for anyone who cusses too much. You cannot make them give up an annoying boyfriend, but you can decline to drive them anywhere. You can’t make a teen be interested in filling out job applications, but you can allow them to have one friend stay overnight for each one they complete.

When you are honest with yourself and with your teen about what things are within your control and what things are within their control, there is no struggle. You allow them to make decisions and assert their power in whatever way they see fit, and then you make decisions and assert your power in whatever manner you need to, based on their choices. Now, the exchange may still be unpleasant and difficult, but it doesn’t result in everyone feeling beaten down, cheated, or hopeless.

So, the next time you find yourself locking horns with a teenager, ask yourself, “Whose Power is it Anyway?”

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