Simply stated, a power struggle is when two people want the same power and neither one of them has a firm grip on it. Power struggles with teens are not uncommon as they are in that stage where they are trying to have more control over their life. They are learning to separate themselves from others as an independent person which often causes them to test their limits. It is your responsibility, as the adult, to diffuse the situation in a calm manner. The KEY to avoiding power struggles is to not become engaged in one in the first place. However, if you do find yourself in a power struggle here are some tips to successfully disengage:
• Immediately stop arguing and try to remain emotionally cool and calm. This will end the power struggle because without anger, your teen will have no one to fight against.
• Let go of the idea that you can make teens do anything. You can’t force cooperation. Instead, inspire, teach, influence, lead, guide, motivate, stimulate and encourage positive, cooperative behavior.
• When disengaging, you need to act, not speak. For example, a temper tantrum becomes ineffective and silly if you withdraw to the other room without giving in to the temptation to slam any doors on your way out. If you are outdoors, just walk away a few yards.
• After you have both had a time out and a chance to cool off, you can talk about solving the issue that caused the power struggle in the first place. Never underestimate the importance of saving face for kids of all ages. Always talk to teenagers with respect and offer them choices and/or good reasons for them to cooperate. Try to find ways for your teen to go along with what you want without leaving them feeling humiliated or too exposed. Offer them choices – if a teenager feels personal power through choices, then they don’t feel the need for power through conflict.
• Deflect arguments using two powerful words: “regardless” and “nevertheless.” This approach is an easy way to assert yourself without getting into an argument. For example, your teen wants to stay out past her 11 p.m. curfew for a Saturday night party and you don’t want her to. After she presents her argument that all her friends will be at this party and they are all being allowed to stay late, reply with “regardless, you need to be home by 11 p.m.” When she continues on with her argument, your next response should be, “nevertheless, you need to be home at your usual time.” Keep doing this until her arguments run out of steam. You will use this effectively if you don’t deviate too much from the one statement by adding unnecessary comments. Eventually she will realize that you aren’t arguing with her and there’s nothing to be won.
• Humor and playfulness that is not seen as mocking or shaming can be very helpful during power struggles. If you are not comfortable using humor, do not. Often, what is intended as humor feels like sarcasm and that only adds fuel to the conflict.
After a power struggle is not the time to use discipline. The teen not getting what they wanted from the argument is consequence enough. Keep in mind that teens need to learn to express themselves and they need you to listen so give them the opportunity to have their say before you say “no” in the first place.