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Avoiding power struggles with teens

a man talking with his teenage son
Posted June 6, 2018

Teens often outgrow the rules we set in place—but we fail to notice, says Ugo Uche, a counsellor who specialises in adolescence. This sets up a power struggle where parents more strictly enforce the rules, and teens double-down on their defiance.

If you want to avoid the teen power struggle, Uche suggests three main steps to follow:

Step 1: Don’t make it about you.

Ego deflation is very important here, the rules are not about you, and never were. The rules were put in place to aide in your teen’s successful growth. In your own words, explain this to your teen—you might say something like, ‘The reason we put the curfew in place is to keep you safe and provide you with the necessary structure to practice self-discipline.

Are you suggesting that this isn’t working out? If so, I would like to learn why.’ This approach is compassionate and puts the onus back on your teen to explain their behaviour without feeling attacked.

Step 2: Talk to your teen about their hopes and dreams.

Examine your own expectations for your teen. For example, if you expect your teen to get all ‘As’ at school, is it because their dreams for the future require them to get As? Or is it because your concept of success is top grades? Think through your expectations—and whether they are serving you, or your teen.

Ask your teen what their hopes and dreams are for the future—if they have no idea, this may be one reason why they are defiant and unmotivated. This is a great opportunity to talk deeply and get to know each other. It’s also a great platform for putting in place goals that will help them reach for their dreams.

Step 3: Agree on new rules with your teen.

For your teen to agree and adhere to household rules, they must understand what they have to gain from following the rules—and what they have to lose if they don’t. After you’ve talked through your teen’s hopes and dreams, work together to make realistic goals for their future. It may mean re-negotiating your rules and expectations to better meet their needs.

One parent made a rule with his teen son that he could text his dad to come and get him anytime, and no questions would be asked. This proved to be not only important for his safety, but built their trust and bond.


Questions to ask your teen …

These questions will get teens thinking about what’s important to them, and what kind of person they want to be:

  • What kind of relationship to you want to have?
  • What values are important to you?
  • What are some career options that appeal to you?
  • What will help keep you safe?
  • Once you’ve talked through these, it’s time to ask, ‘Ok, so how can we make this happen?’