Relationship Connection: Disarming power struggles with teens


I have a teenage son who gives me serious attitude every time I ask him to do a chore around the house or pick up after himself. I don’t get what I’m doing wrong or what his problem is. I can’t even imagine what would have happened to me if I talked back to my parents in the same way he does with us. Is this something he’s going to outgrow? Any thoughts on how I can handle him?


It can be overwhelming to experience power struggles with our children, especially when we’re asking them to do routine requests, such as housework. Those requests aren’t going to disappear, which ultimately sets both of you up for years of emotional standoffs. Here are a few thoughts that might help you replace strife with peaceful cooperation.

First, it’s important to recognize that, as children get older, our job as parents moves from managing their behavior to influencing their behavior. This starts within the first few years of life as we honor their simple and harmless preferences, such as what shirt to wear. As they grow up and decisions become more complex, we continue to influence their decisions by counseling with them about different options and potential outcomes.

My point in mentioning this developmental reality is to help you consider how you might be approaching your request for chores. A manager would simply demand that the chore be completed immediately and would then stand over their child until it’s done. An influencer would make the request and give a reasonable time frame (if appropriate) and follow up with the child after the time frame has passed. If the child doesn’t do the chore, then the influencing parent would hold the child accountable by having a brief conversation about why the chore wasn’t done and come up with a solution or consequence.

This is not some “namby-pamby” coddling form of parenting that lets the child off the hook. Instead, it’s recognizing that this is the way that healthy adults work out problems when requests go unheeded. When our teenagers feel respected, they will be more cooperative. Often, their resistance is their way of saving face in response to feeling disrespected.

You can also visit with them during a time when there are no chore requests and listen to his ideas on how chore time could go better. When you allow him to problem-solve with you about the chore issues, he is more likely to buy in to the arrangement.

There is nothing wrong with firmly reminding him that speaking disrespectfully in the family isn’t going to work. However, if you only focus on his attitude without trying to engage his cooperation in other ways, you’ll miss the chance to build the relationship with him. If you see that the attitude is really about him trying to save face so he doesn’t feel controlled, you can work on building a more respectful relationship.

If you’re open to doing some reading, I recommend two books. The first one is available online for free at (click on the link for “Between Parent and Teenager”). The other is called “The Anatomy of Peace” by the Arbinger Institute. Both of these resources help parents get out of the power struggle with their adolescents so they can build relationships of cooperation.

Stay connected!


Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Copyright 2012 St. George News.


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1 Comment

  • Jorja Bennett August 11, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    I so appreciate your article on parenting through the adolescent power struggle! It’s as if you are in the next room watching my son and I. I am really struggling with ongoing disrespectful behavior, words and attitude from my 12 year old son. What’s worse, I don’t have the support I need either. His father is not engaged whatsoever in any of it, and only parents when it’s convenient for him. Not to mention, when I reach out for his help, he diminishes the situation and belittles me right in the process of reprimanding my, our, son. It’s the most horrible feeling to not have care and respect directly from the man who is supposed to be a role model and healthy advocating parent. I don’t know what’s worse. My sons attitude or his Dads complete.failure of respect of me, in front of our son. Please help me with any advice you may have.

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