When Sharing Power Creates Conflicts

Mother and daughter talking in kitchenWhen Conflicts Occur

Sharing power recognizes young people’s increasing ability to think critically, make decisions, and have a voice in family life (and other areas of life as well). This leads to more give and take in the relationship, with each person influencing the other.

But that’s not always a smooth process.

Short-Term Conflicts

Sometimes kids think they are ready to make some decisions or be more independent than parents think is appropriate. These mismatched expectations can create conflicts and undermine closeness until relationship roles and expectations adjust.

These kinds of conflicts are a normal, often healthy, part of growing up and shifting toward a more equal power relationship between parents and adult children—particularly in relationships that maintain mutual respect and care even in the midst of disagreements.2 Some of the strategies outlined in the Try It activities can help work through these conflicts.

Long-Term Problems

If kids consistently feel that they are not being treated fairly or respectfully in decision making, or that they are not being heard or taken seriously, it can undermine the quality of our relationships over the long term.2

In addition, some power dynamics in families are not normal or healthy. When parents use guilt, withdrawing love, coercion, violence, or other emotionally manipulative strategies to control a child’s motivations and behaviors, young people are tend to face a number of challenges later in life, including:

  • Having a harder time forming close relationships;
  • Being more likely to be lonely or experience depression; and
  • Being less likely to think for themselves when making decisions.3

Some Conflict is Part of Growing Up

Serious, ongoing conflict is not inevitable. Only about 5 to 15 percent of teenagers have extremely conflicted relationships with their parents.1 For most families, conflicts over power and independence increase during the middle-school years, then begin to even out or decline through high school as new, more egalitarian, patterns take shape.

Next Steps

  • Take the quiz to explore the ways you share power with your kids.
  • Talk about sharing power with your kids and other parenting adults.

Research Sources

1. Eisenberg, N., Hofer, C., Spinrad, T. T., et al. (2008). Understanding mother-adolescent conflict discussions: Concurrent and across-time prediction from youths’ dispositions and parenting. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 73(2), vii–160. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5834.2008.00470.x

2. Laursen, B., & Collins, W. A. (2009). Parent-child relationships during adolescence. In R. M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of Adolescent Psychology: Vol. 2: Contextual Influences on Adolescent Development (pp. 3–16). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

3. Oudekerk, B. A., Allen, J. P., Hessel, E. T., & Molloy, L. E. (2014). The cascading development of autonomy and relatedness from adolescence to adulthood. Child Development [published online first]. doi:10.1111/cdev.12313