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Parenting With Power- teenage video game addiction and family conflict.

If you're having difficulty with teenagers and their response to using your authority, consider if your parenting style is impacting your child in a negative way. As a family therapist in Los Angeles, I help parents assess the way they use their power as an adult to help see if they're using it effectively. More options are available to parents who talk things through in parent coaching sessions and they often find conflict within the family decreasing.

The Use Of Power As A Parent.

  • Power only works when there's NEED.

  • Power only works under strictly controlled environments.

  • Power runs out: the need to use power lessens as your child gets older, and the results get less impactful as their independence grows.

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In family sessions, I ask parents to think back to a time in their own childhood when an authority figure used their power agains them. It's easy to find an example because most often, we remember the feelings it brought up.

If power is used too often in our household, we tend to have a negative reaction. Using our power as an adult over a teenager may help modify behaviors in the short term, but over the long term, there may be more effective ways to guid and influence a teen.

Some of the results of an over use of power and control we see in teenagers are summarized below:

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1. Resistance and Defiance.

Some children rebel against parents’ use of authority by doing exactly the opposite of what their parents desire them to do. This often results in a household filled with conflict, arguments and high levels of stress.

2. Resentment and Anger.

Most people don’t respond favorably to those who hold power to dispense or withhold rewards.

It seems to be a universal response of human beings at any age to feel deeply resentful and angry toward someone who uses authority and power over them . This is amplified when that person is someone on whom they are, to a greater or lesser degree, dependent for providing gratification of their needs.

3. Aggression and Retaliation.

Frustration from the use of power often leads to aggression, so unfortunately, parents who rely on authority can expect their children to show aggression in some way.

Children retaliate, can be critical, mean, they can talk back nastily, or even employ “the silent treatment,” - a passive form of aggression.

When children are reared in a climate full of rewards and punishment, they may develop strong needs to look “good” or to win, and strong needs to avoid looking “bad” or losing. This amplifies aggression and anger often.

4. Lying and hiding feelings.

Some children learn early in life that if they lie they can avoid a great deal of punishment.

Lying is often considered to be a learned response—a coping mechanism to handle the parents’ attempts to control by manipulation of rewards and punishment.

Parents who complain that their children do not share their problems or talk about what is going on in their lives are also often parents who have used a lot of punishment.

Children learn how to play the game, and one way is to keep quiet. Unfortunately, when children aren't able to open up to their parents, they will find others with whom they can. Often this is peers and friends, who may not have their best interest at heart.

5. Blaming others.

In families with more than one child, the children are sometimes competing to get parental attention and to avoid punishment.

They soon learn another coping mechanism: if they put their siblings at a disadvantage, or make them look bad, tattle, shift the blame they look better.The thinking is —“By making my brother look bad, perhaps I will look good.”

Children whose parents control and direct by authority and power learn, as they grow older, yet another way of coping with that power. This is the all-too-familiar pattern of forming alliances with other children, either in the family or out of it. Children discover that “in union there is strength”—they can “organize” much like workers in America have organized to cope with the power of employers and management.

6. Compliance and Submission

This response to parental authority often occurs when the parents have been very severe in their use of power. Particularly when punishment has been strong, children learn to submit out of a strong fear of the punishment.

When children submit too often, they miss out on the chance of voicing their thoughts, feelings and opinions, they become timid and sometimes anxious.

7. Withdrawing, escaping, fantasizing, regression.

When a child is confronted with parents who use power too often, the child realizes it's often safer to escape. The forms of withdrawal and escape may range from daydreaming, TV and most often - video game.

Withdrawal from reality can look like:

  • Daydreaming and fantasizing.

  • Inactivity, passivity, apathy.

  • Regressing to infantile behavior.

  • Excessive TV watching and video game playing.

  • Solitary play (often with imaginary playmates).

  • Getting sick.

  • Running away.

  • Joining gangs.

  • Using drugs.

  • Eating disorders.

  • Depression.

Creativity comes from freedom to experiment, to try new things and new combinations. Children reared in a climate of strong rewards and punishment are not as likely to feel such freedom as children reared in a more accepting climate. It seems then that a false sense of creative escape might be found in video games or fantasy.


Family therapy can help the attitude of the teenager by looking at the parenting styles. A family therapist will help parents by providing more tools to use and working through patterns of interactions that don't seem to work. Parent coaching is sometimes part of the service and helps with providing tools and strategies that will impact the whole family. If you're in Los Angeles and looking for a family therapist, please reach out. Family counseling is offered in the Beverly Hills and West Hollywood area - close to The Grove and Century City.

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