How to Juggle Attention and Power When Parenting Your Teens

Whatever a child’s temperament, the parenting style or the living environment, annoying behavior is always to do with gaining attention and power. The main way parents and teachers mould behavior is through the giving and withdrawing of attention. For some children, power is an important motivator, but not for all.


Every child loves to receive good attention, but when this is not on offer, they will try to attract any sort of attention that’s going. Say Mum and Dad are having an important discussion. John feels excluded from their attention and tries to get in on the act. He asks a question but this is ignored. He interrupts and is pushed aside. Now he turns on the TV, torments the dog and imitates fart sounds. Mum and Dad close the conversation, become intensely irritated and John is rewarded with 100 per cent attention. This is poor-quality attention, but it’s better than being ignored.

Teen Alcohol

We shape our children’s behavior by boosting the good patterns with attention and reward while discouraging the bad by pulling back on our attention. This giving and taking of attention is the basic principle of effective discipline.

Every day we see how attention affects behavior. A second-rate author wants to get their book mentioned in the media. They create a bogus beat-up, the media respond and sales increase. The behavior is rewarded and more books will follow. Or a rock star dyes his hair orange, applies lipstick and wears fishnet stockings: with his new image he now fills the stadium. He gets so much attention, he keeps on cross-dressing. For rock stars, authors and children, attention is a powerful motivator.

In children it is the most powerful way to steer both good and bad behavior.


Some children are heavily into power politics, while others are much more easy going. Power play involves testing limits, dragging feet, arguing and opposition.

You draw the line; they see how far they can push you before you respond. You ask if they will do a simple chore; they respond with provisos and conditions. You say it’s black; they say it’s white. This power play involves having the last word, wanting more, acting the smart arse and just being difficult with non-compliance.

Attention and power are major factors in difficult behavior.

A final word

The foundation of behavior is in the genes, which is moulded by stress in a child’s environment and the need for attention and power.

And then there is parenting. Since Spock’s day it has been wrong to be a permissive parent, but research does not agree. Ideally, every child should have clear, consistent limits and discipline. But many times more important is the influence of warm, caring parents who enjoy being with their children. An upbringing which is warm, clear and consistent is the first choice but warm and permissive parents come a very close second.

Filed Under: Family & Relationships


About the Author: Roberta Southworth is a psychiatrist by profession. She likes to help out people by writing informative tips on how people can to solve their family and relationship issues. She is currently staying in Ireland. She has 5 years of couple counseling experience.

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