Dealing With Parent–Teen Power Struggles

Are you finding it difficult to deal with your troublesome teen? Are you engaged in constant power struggles with him? Here’s how to approach the issue.

By Amrita Gracias

Dealing With Parent–Teen Power Struggles

Power struggles between parents and teenagers are a common occurrence in almost every home environment. During these situations, teens often view their parents as adversaries rather than allies. “These conflict situations involve disagreements when one is trying to feel more powerful than the other, emotions and emotional reactions are high, and the main objective of each is to win for himself,” explains Arundhati Swamy, counsellor and Head – Parent Engagement Programs at ParentCircle. But, when it comes to dealing with these parent-teen power struggles, it is essential to first identify and understand what causes them.

Three main causes of power struggles between teens and parents –

1. The relationship between them: Most often, the power struggles that emerge between the parent and teen depend on the kind of relationship that they share. This is largely influenced by the kind of attachment shared between the two in the child’s early years. Ms Arundhati describes attachment as a bond that forms between parent and child, and explains that it can be classified as three types:

  • Anxious attachment – the child will constantly try to please the parent and will give in resentfully to win the parent’s approval
  • Secure attachment – the relationship allows for more understanding of each other and gives greater scope for problem-solving
  • Insecure attachment – the ruling emotion will be indifference

2. Changes the teen goes through: Your teen is going through immense changes that include physical, emotional, intellectual and even moral thought processes. And, all these changes are engineered by the brain. Most significant are the intellectual changes where he begins to start deciding for himself. He also learns to question as he wants to understand, through reason, rather than continuing to accept, depend on or follow an adult’s opinion. Such apparent challenging of authority or possessing of views which are in opposition to that of an adult’s is misinterpreted as being rebellious or defiant. And, parents tend to exert extra restraint on the child to regain their control over him. This leads to regular power struggles. So, you must understand that your teen doesn’t intend to start a battle. Rather, he is trying to explore his new thinking abilities and enjoys asserting his growing independence. “Remember that this change is entirely a normal and natural development, where unwanted neural connections are being pruned. This dynamic process is creating changes in your teen’s thinking capabilities and behaviours”, explains Ms Arundhati.

3. Parental attitude towards the teenage phase: The occurrence of parent-teen conflicts mostly depends on parents’ attitude towards their child’s teenage years. Ms Arundhati says, “Parents either view this phase as troublesome and turbulent or as a terrific opportunity for growth and learning”.

Having outlined the major causes of parent-teen power struggles, now let us look at how to address them. Ms Arundhati provides a few tips.

Tips to address parent-teen power struggles:

  • Make an effort to separate the problem from the child. In this way, you can continue to value the child and can be assured that his self-esteem remains intact. Then the problem can be dissected any way to find a suitable solution.
  • Use your negotiation skills to ensure that the end-result is a ‘win-win’ situation for both. Neither should feel that they are the losers in the battle. Be willing to try and find a desirable way out for a more positive outcome.
  • Rather than blindly saying ‘no’, give him a chance. Question the child asking for more details. For example, if he wants to go out with his friends, you are entitled to ask the ‘three Ws’ - where, (with) whom, and what (time will he be back). If he refuses to give this information, then, as a parent, you do in fact have the right to say ‘no’ as you don’t have enough information that will ensure his safety.

If you find that these conflicts are recurrent, you could talk to other parents to understand if there are any other methods of problem-solving that you can use to ease these struggles. If nothing seems to work, then there might be some deeper underlying issues with the parent(s) or the child or even both. In such a case, it is better to consult a professional like a counsellor or a teen behaviour expert who can offer help and support.