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Food for Thought: Power plays, preadolescents

| February 24, 2021 12:00 AM

As young people mature, they seek more independence. But parents of preadolescents know that 10- to 14-year-olds aren’t ready for the kind of independence they are seeking.

Added to that, they are at a stage in their lives where they feel powerless. They have almost no say in what they consider the important areas in their lives (curfew, family/time, commitments, chores, coming and going as they please}. They are dependent on others for their transportation.

As a result preadolescent often use power plays to grab some control over their lives. Power plays include: non-verbal tantrums, smarting off, manipulating others, and sometimes dangerous behaviors. Much of their behavior can be compared to a two year old.

Two years olds say “no”, “me do it myself”. Preadolescents say “so”, “leave me alone,” or “that’s stupid”. Two year olds throw themselves on the floor and scream. Preadolescents slam doors, sulk and refuse to talk. Two year olds bite. Preadolescents use sarcasm and ridicule. Two year olds “get into things.” Preadolescents take risks, like riding their bikes places they are not allowed to go or watch movies they are not suppose to see. All of these are ways to exercise power and try out a beginning independence and separation from adult control.

How to handle power plays:

  1. Think ahead. Think through what is truly important to you. Is your child’s hairstyle as important as homework? Isn’t curfew more of a concern than crabbiness? Obviously, dawdling is a lot easier to accept than drugs. As these give and take situations start, know ahead of time what areas you are willing to negotiate and what areas are non-negotiable.
  2. Don’t give into manipulation. Kids often play mom against dad, parent against teacher, even friend against friend. Sometimes it is to protect themselves or get something they want, but often it is just to exercise power, to “get” us. Being aware of this ability kids have is the first step; not giving in is the second. Check out details and ask yourself some questions before you react.
  3. Another way to deal with power is to disengage. Some kids carry on just to see how far they can go. Don’t let this happen. If you see such a struggle coming toward you (especially if it is a reoccurring argument) or if you are fast coming to the end of being reasonable, disengage. Step away and talk about it when everybody is calm or end the discussion.
  4. Bend a little. Kids this age do feel powerless, so it helps to give them appropriate power whenever possible. Negotiate more, listen more and command less.

  5. Don’t use power unless it is urgent. Parents have the ultimate power and kids know it. You don’t have to prove it to them at every turn. Save your strength for those really important issues you have decided are non-negotiable. Eventually kids are going to possess power on their own, and we want them to be able to use it wisely.

Dr. Leta A. Livoti Ph.D.,LCSW, LCPC is a psychotherapist in Thompson Falls. She may be contacted at 827-0700.