Safety, Independence and Power Struggles


Safety is a concern since adolescents typically become stronger and more independent before they’ve developed good decision-making skills. A strong need for peer approval may entice a young person to try dangerous feats, or join others in risk-taking behaviors.

Motor vehicle safety should be stressed, focusing on the roles of the driver, passenger and pedestrian, the risks of drinking and drugs while driving, the dangers of cellphone use—especially texting—while driving, and the importance of using seat belts. Adolescents should not have the privilege of using cars and recreational motor vehicles unless they can show that they can use these vehicles safely.

Other safety issues are:

  • Adolescents who are involved in sports should learn to use equipment and protective gear or clothing. They should be taught the rules of safe play and healthy approaches (including proper coaching) to activities that require more advanced skills. 
  • Young people need to be very aware of possible dangers—including sudden death—that may occur with regular substance abuse, and with the experimental use of drugs and alcohol.
  • Adolescents who are allowed to use or have access to firearms need to learn how to use them safely, properly and legally.
  • If adolescents appear to be isolated from their peers or uninterested in school or social activities, or if they are doing poorly at school, work or sports, a caring adult or healthcare provider should talk with them to find out what is going on. 
  • Many adolescents are at increased risk for depression and potential suicide attempts, because of pressures and conflicts in their family, school or social organizations, peer groups, and intimate relationships. If you are concerned about your child’s behavior, you can talk with your doctor or a mental health professional.


Independence and Power Struggles
The teenager’s quest to become independent is a normal part of development. The parent should not see it as a rejection or loss of control over the child. Parents need to be constant and consistent. They should be available as a sounding board for the youth’s ideas, without dominating the child’s newly independent identity.

Although adolescents often challenge authority figures, they need and want limits, which provide a safe boundary for them to grow and function. Limit-setting means having pre-set rules and expectations about their behavior.

Power struggles begin when authority is at stake or “being right” is the main issue. Parents should try to avoid these situations, if possible. In an argument with an adult, the teen may often feel overpowered, causing the youth to “lose face.” This can cause them to feel embarrassed, inadequate, resentful and bitter. In these situations, it may be helpful to give your teen a “graceful exit” by offering a choice between two options that you find acceptable.

Parents should be prepared for common conflicts that can develop. Unresolved issues from the parent’s own childhood can affect the experience, as can issues left over from the adolescent’s early years. 

Parents should know that their teenagers will repeatedly challenge their authority. Keeping open lines of communication and clear yet negotiable limits or boundaries can help reduce major conflicts.

Most parents feel they gain more wisdom and grow as parents as they rise to the challenges of their adolescents.

If you have questions about your adolescent’s behavior, your pediatrician or family doctor may be able to help.

If you have immediate concerns about your adolescent’s behavior, feel unsafe, or believe they may be a risk to themselves or others, you can contact the statewide crisis line at 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471).