How power is shared—or is not shared—lies at the heart of every relationship.
“Sharing power” is not the same as “equal power.” It also doesn’t mean we let kids make all their own decisions. Adults should—and do— have more power than kids. Part of the role of an adult is to teach them, guide them, make demands on them, and set limits that help them grow.
How Sharing Power Makes an Impact
Sharing power with young people helps prepare them to be responsible adults and shapes the quality of our relationship with them as they grow up. It makes a positive difference in many ways:
- Family relationships grow deeper when we influence each other and learn from each other. Parents report being closer to their children when there is give-and-take between them.
- When kids know how to share power, they are more prepared to form strong relationships with peers, partners, bosses, and colleagues throughout life.
- Through shared power, young people learn critical social skills. These skills include communication, negotiation, and problem-solving.”
- Young people become more self-confident and responsible. They gain a positive identity. They also learn to form deeper relationships and a sense of positive give-and-take.
- Teenagers are more likely to avoid risky behaviors when parents encourage decision-making and set clear limits. However, if parents give kids lots of freedom without support or clear limits, young people are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors.
- Families can share power in many ways, depending on culture, values, and other differences. However, young people do best when their opinions are respected and they are guided toward maturity.
The Discomfort of Sharing Power
Sharing power in a developmental relationship involves these four key actions:
- Respect me………………Take me seriously and treat me fairly.
- Include me………………..Involve me in decisions that affect me.
- Collaborate……………….Work with me to solve problems and reach goals.
- Let me lead……………….Create opportunities for me to take action and lead.
At its heart, “sharing power” highlights the ways we influence, learn from, and work with each other through our relationships.
But with power comes responsibility. Using power with care means treating young people with love, respect, and fairness without manipulating, coercing, or threatening them in ways that harm them or our relationship. This abuse of power can include physical or emotional violence or manipulation, including withholding affection or approval in order to get our way. When power is used in negative ways, it has serious and lasting effects on young people’s well being. Physical and emotional abuse is very destructive.
How Young People Experience Sharing Power
10 Ways to Share Power
- Let young people make decisions about activities you do together and what you talk about. Don’t jump in too fast when they don’t make quick decisions or think of things to talk about.
- When you’re able to, offer choices (“So, what could you do differently to tackle this problem?”), rather than always giving instructions.
- Learn from young people—and show it. Young people have a lot to teach adults. Let them know when you’ve learned something from them that you’re excited about.
- Include young people in thinking about decisions, even when you have to make the final call.
- When you disagree, take time to understand the young person’s point of view.
- Ask young people for input on activities, assignments, projects, class content, and how they can show growth or proficiency.
- Provide opportunities for young people to lead programs based on their interests.
- Emphasize building community and serving others through youth-initiated projects.
- Give young people a voice in decisions that will affect them.
- Work to understand young people’s points of view when they share ideas or opinions.