By Ashley Rogers
And what to do Instead!
1. Not addressing the actual issue: The real issue is not the tone of voice, the words chosen, or the body language used by your teen. Whatever it is you needed to talk to your teenager about, or they needed to talk to you about, is the real issue. The way it is conveyed is often less-than-stellar with our teenagers, but if you are able to look past the delivery and focus on the message, not only will you help squash the power struggle, but you will also be able to really hear what they are trying to say.
2. Reactive responses: When our first response to our teen or their behavior is led by an automatic, negative, emotional response, a power struggle follows. It is in our biology to have big emotional reactions, so nothing has gone wrong when you feel one, but it is more than okay to say to your teen, “I need a minute to think about this.” Or “I don’t think I’m in the right headspace to discuss this right now. Give me five minutes?” This shows your teen not only do you have emotionally reactive responses too, but it models for them the correct way to deal with them. Giving yourself 3-5 minutes after an emotional response allows your prefrontal cortex (higher-level thinking skills) to reboot and come back online. Otherwise, you will most likely respond in a way you will regret later.
3. Taking it personally: Personalization is defined as, “Interpreting a remark or action as directed against oneself and being upset or offended by it.” If you are susceptible to being hurt by your teenager, then you are much more likely to personalize their words and actions and get caught in the control struggle. When you personalize a situation, you only hear your own thoughts and feelings about what the person is saying instead of actually listening to the meaning and context of the words being spoken. The other danger of personalizing is that you can put the negative emphasis on the teen themselves and not on the behavior. (They are bad vs. they did something bad.) This can lead to feeling justified in making personalized comments back to your teen and being purposefully hurtful.
4. Negative tone: When your teen feels negative emotion from you or hears your negative tone of voice, the automatic response is to view you and the situation as a threat. This triggers the fight-or-flight response, and neither option is the response you are looking for. When you need to be stern or serious, your tone can still be one of love or concern, so you don’t trigger a defensive response. If your tone is negative, your teen will interpret it as, “My mom is against me.” This makes them feel like they have to defend themselves instead of hearing what you have to say and learning from it.
Things You Can Do Right Now Squash the Power Struggle and Fuel a Positive Relationship
1. A positive perception of your teen: Your teen needs to know you think they are incredibly capable now and you have full faith they will grow into incredible adults. You can’t assume they know this, especially when you are also frequently offering course corrections or pointing out mistakes. Your teen should hear a 6 to 1 ratio of positive comments to negative ones. Keeping in mind your teen will hear any of your suggestions as negative gives you an idea of how many positive comments need to be made. Tune into their strengths and communicate both verbally and nonverbally that you enjoy and appreciate them. When struggles arise, talk to the person you know they are capable of being. Assume they are an amazing kid, who, like you, are just caught momentarily in a power struggle. Coming at any interaction, even possibly difficult ones with a positive perception of your teen, communicates the message, “We are on the same team!”
2. Visible belief in a positive outcome: When you go into any interaction with your teen assuming it will end well for both parties and there is an easy solution to be found, they can feel your positivity and will assume the same. Letting the power struggle cause you to lose faith in your teen and their ability can destroy hope on both sides. Self-fulfilling prophesy says what we look for, we will find. So, look forward with the full belief you and your teen will both come out on the other end of this situation better, happier, and closer from working together to find a solution.
3. Make deposits in the “relationship bank”: In your relationship with your teen, you need to look for opportunities to make deposits in the relationship bank intentionally and frequently. Sometimes when your teen is volatile, you just leave them alone as if you don’t want to risk incurring their wrath, and you stay out of each other’s way until there is a problem. If you do this, there are no positive experiences to draw from when things get hard. When things are good or even neutral with your teen, this is the time to find ways to fill the relationship bank! This means doing something they like and doing it without any strings attached. This often revolves around food, not making them spend their own money, or giving extra privileges. It will not look like having a deep heart-to-heart, pointing out how much you do for them, or inviting your teen to go run your errands with you. You’ve got to appeal to what they would actually enjoy!
If you are not fueling the power struggle, and you are modeling the behavior you would like to see, you can do wonders for your relationship with your teenager. Even if you feel the negative change in relationship dynamics is your teenager’s “fault,” you will find it is well within your power to increase positivity. You will also find a power struggle is like a tug-o-war; it can’t be one-sided. If you don’t participate, there is no battle!