Why Share Power in Our Relationships with Our Kids

“Well, you’re settin’ ’em up for failure if you always help ’em with everything they do, because they won’t know how to do anything when it comes time! ...’ You think you’re supportin’ ’em but really you’re hurting ’em."

The Power of Sharing Power

How power is—or is not shared—lies at the heart of every relationship. Sharing power with children helps prepare them to be responsible adults. It also shapes the quality of our relationship with them as they grow up.

Sharing power with children makes a positive difference in many ways:

  • Family relationships grow deeper when we influence each other and learn from each other.8  Parents report being closer to their children when there is give-and-take between them.5
  • When kids know how to share power, they are more prepared to form strong relationships with peers, partners, bosses, colleagues throughout life.6
  • Through shared power, young people learn critical social skills. These skills include communication, negotiation, and problem-solving.”1
  • Young people become more self-confident and responsible. They gain a positive identity. They also learn to form deeper relationships and a sense of positive give-and-take.3
  • Teenagers are more likely to avoid risky behaviors when parents encourage decision making and set clear limits. These risky behaviors include premature sexual activity. However, if parents give kids lots of freedom without support or clear limits, young people are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors.2
  • Families can share power in many ways, depending on culture, values, and other differences. However, young people do best when their opinions are respected and they are guided toward maturity. 3  
  • When power is used in negative ways, it has serious and lasting effects on young people’s well-being. Physical and emotional abuse is very destructive.4,7

Next Steps

  • Take the quiz to explore the ways you share power with your kids.
  • Learn about the challenge of sharing power with young people.

Research Sources

1. Conger, K. J., Williams, S. T., Little, W. M., Masyn, K. E., & Shebloski, B. (2009). Development of mastery during adolescence: The role of family problem-solving. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 50(1), 99–114. doi:10.1177/002214650905000107

2. Lanza, H. I., Huang, D. Y. C., Murphy, D. A., & Hser, Y.-I. (2013). A latent class analysis of maternal responsiveness and autonomy-granting in early adolescence: Prediction to later adolescent sexual risk-taking. Journal of Early Adolescence, 33(3), 404–428. doi:10.1177/0272431612445794

3. 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.

4. Lowell, A., Renk, K., Adgate, A. H. (2014). The role of attachment in the relationship between child maltreatment and later emotional and behavioral functioning, Child Abuse & Neglect 38, 1436–1449.

5. Oliphant, A. E., & Kuczynski, L. (2011). Mothers’ and fathers' perceptions of mutuality in middle childhood: The domain of intimacy. Journal of Family Issues, 32(8), 1104–1124. doi:10.1177/0192513X11402946

6. 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

7. Sperry, D. M., & Widom, C. S. (2013). Child abuse and neglect, social support, and psychopathology in adulthood: A prospective investigation. Child Abuse & Neglect37(6), 415–425. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2013.02.006

8. Tuttle, A. R., Knudson-Martin, C., & Kim, L. (2012). Parenting as relationship: A framework for assessment and practice. Family Process, 51(1), 73–89. doi:10.1111/j.1545-5300.2012.01383.x