top of page

Part 2 - Resolving The Conflict Between Parents and Teens

Updated: May 1

In this next part of resolving the conflict between parents and teens we'll continue the discussion on the transition from independence to interdependence, with a consideration of replacing the old construct of independence with freedom. Though this shift is not always easy, we will look at how interdependence ultimately becomes a new way of life, a way to engage with others to make the journey easier, mitigating conflict, and preserving relationships, especially those with our children. If you missed the first part you can read it here.

In part one we discussed changing our own mindset to become fully conscious and aware of our impact on self, others, and the environment at large. We acknowledged the importance of understanding we are not all the same and how the uniqueness in each of us creates perceptions both in how we see the world and how others see and experience us, all coloured by our own unique and natural wiring which impacts how we enter into, and experience, situations. We looked at the importance of knowing oneself, and how we often tell ourselves “stories”, what in coaching we might term untruths, instead of putting in the hard work to understand ‘how we got to now’ - interpreting and resolving conflict to create better relationships. We touched on how, more often than not, misunderstandings are fuelled by the unmet needs of our Strengths, where we are wanting to contribute, yet cannot, and these unmet needs become triggered. Often others enter into situations with their own biased judgements of us and the situation, this in an effort to get their own needs met, and contribute, and how this can push us into what we term ‘the circle of toxicity’ where we will find 3 dependencies:

Three Dependencies:

• Independence

• Dependence

• Co-dependence

The Circle of Toxicity

These three dependencies makes up what we term the ‘Circle of Toxicity’ with Interdependence as the forth, postive dependency.

Let’s dig a little deeper to understand The Circle of Toxicity as it’s in this circle where we will find the three dependencies that, to a large extent, create negative results, as the impact on self is unsustainable over a long period of time, and the impact on self, others, and the environment, thus becomes toxic.

We are on a journey, firstly to understand how we are uniquely wired, secondly to actually acknowledge and recognise we are all wired uniquely, and thirdly how, if we can grasp the enormity of this in our relationships, we can alter the construct of independence towards freedom, and see this as our desire for freedom: freedom to be ourselves and, in turn, allowing others the grace of this privileged too. This is termed Interdependent Rules of Engagement, a social system where we know the ‘rules of the game’ when we enter into relationship with anyone. Yet without entering into situations differently, through interdependence, where we put ourselves on hold in order to meet the needs of others first, this becomes a cycle of toxicity.

You’re probably thinking “what, I must put the needs of others before myself, are you crazy” and I’d agree with you, other than when I consider my own personal experience and the transformation I’ve experienced in others, and what this does for us as individuals. The immediate unseen benefits of this are a nuanced shift towards consciousness and this consciousness is the beginning of your journey towards self-realisation and becoming your own full self, your own unique person. This consciousness changes your own biases and thus, how you enter into situations, becoming less judgemental and more accepting of others and their needs. Without realising it, an unseen shift begins to happen both to yourself and to others. Others unwittingly and subconsciously notice a change in you. This impacts how they respond towards you. How they respond towards you, impacts how you view them. How you see, impacts your behaviours, and thus the results achieved. Over the long-haul, relationships of trust are built and developed and the rewards can be immense.

Imagine a world where we all entered into situations where we actively looked at what was right with others

Some people are very independent in relationships, others are dependent, and a number of people are co-dependent - which means they maintain a relationship with someone else at the exclusion of their own wellbeing. Very few of us are interdependent. Yet the healthiest form of interaction with those close to us is by being truly interdependent. Interdependence is mutual dependence on, and in, interactions with each other – “we serve us, so we can serve others” and as the old adage goes “there’s no ‘I’ in Team”.

Looking closer at the Circle of Toxicity and the three “negative” dependencies


What do we mean by co-dependence? An example would be when a group of children get together and they keep each other in negativity. The relationships are transactional “I’ll please you, so you’ll please me”. Judgemental groups are formed, often to the exclusion of others and against others, whilst we gossip, seek validation from each other, judge, and often this is where group bullying can take place. This is because we have a sense of not feeling ‘good enough’ which drives a mean streak, reinforcing protectionism and exclusion.

We all have limitations, doubts and contradictions which cause anxiety, guilt, and resentment. When we can project the cause of such negativity, through co-dependence, as outside of ourselves, we find a degree of relief, at least temporarily. The formation of alliances between siblings or friends, may occur to validate each other, blaming inadequacies, perceived and real, of their parents as the reason for their lack of ‘success’, opportunities, or wellbeing. Comments may sound like: “If only dad wasn’t away so much, he didn’t encourage me to study…etc” or “Mum did everything for me, I feel a failure as I have no confidence in myself”.

Parents likewise can negatively ‘collaborate’ to justify why their child is ‘failing’ in school; “he never listens to us” or “the teachers don’t understand our child’s needs”. This Co-dependent validation to stay within one’s comfort zone of responsibility, will again perpetuate the same conversations, responses and passivity, common to the ‘circle of toxicity’ within which we find the three negative dependencies, with the focus on preserving ‘me’.

As Rob points out: “In the workplace I recall the divide between many staff and management, the ‘us’ and ‘them’. There were clear and predictable ‘co-dependent rules of engagement’ not from “interdependent Rules of Engagement” - between the two camps. Negotiations were weighed down with ‘self-preservation’, ‘what can we get out of this’ and meetings ended with respective parties more polarised. The waste of opportunity was disheartening, cooperation minimal, and a revolving door of attrition of teachers annually, with the obvious negative knock-on effect this had on students.

Should we choose the route of co-dependence, we need to be aware of what happens when one of our fellow ‘conspirators’ chooses to leave the group, and operate from a positive mindset, in an attempt to make a success of their own lives. How does this leave the rest of the co-dependent group feeling? In co-dependence we literally need others to feel needy in order to stay in negativity and make us feel useful and wanted. In co-dependence there is no growth, no positive freedom. Instead, this is replaced with, for example, judging ourselves and others. Seeking validation, feeling anxious, hesitant, waiting for someone to say we’re ok, gossiping behind each other’s backs, a very reactive, negative, and toxic re-enforced way of being. I can think of a number of co-dependence relationships I have seen in my own environment and, I’m sure I’ve engaged myself, at some time in my own life.

What comes to mind as an example of co-dependence are parents appeasing their children when they come home complaining about friends, schoolwork, social environments, their weight, ill health etc. Instead of empowering children with the right tools to cope with such situations, parents will constantly take over and feed whatever is being judged as incorrect as opposed to teaching “Interdependent Rules of Engagement. If we were to become conscious and intentional in our approach, we might choose to ask ourselves “which needs are going unmet in our children and ourselves?”, as such, we may be able to begin to empower each other to deal positively with things as they occur and have each other’s immediate needs met at the same time.

I recall a situation where a young family were visiting South Africa and were settling down to eat in a restaurant. The youngest child insisted she wanted something out of a shop next door. As the mother got up from the restaurant table to go next door to indulge her, the older child screamed, stating she was not prepared to be left alone. She clearly felt intimidated and unsafe in her surroundings. The Mother then sat down, refusing to go anywhere, in an attempt to appease the older child. The tears that ensued from the younger sibling thereafter, eventually “forced” the mother out of the restaurant, with the middle child sauntering after the her, clearly dependent on the situation, whilst the older one sat with a face like thunder having been left to sit on her own.

We can see here how co-dependency becomes a vicious ‘circle of toxicity’ ultimately serving no one and the conflict that ensues becomes learned behaviours with multiple negative consequences. We can all recall situations such as this one. However, given a choice, and the right tools to understand how we got to now, we’d all prefer things to be different, more positive. These situations finish up triggering everyone and the negativity that ensues is painful, disruptive, conflicted and breaks down the very sustainable relationships we’d hoped and longed to build with our teens.


Let’s take a look at dependence. What type of results do “dependent rules of engagement” offer?

We’ve all met a person, or been that person ourselves, when we feel we’re not as good as everyone else. We berate ourselves and look towards others to be the expert, whilst we wait around to be told we’re good enough, or for someone to tell us what to do. When we feel dependent, it’s simply impossible to optimise ourselves, because we spend our lives waiting for validation. This waiting leaves us feeling unsure, anxious, inadequate, not good enough. We easily take offence, especially when others play from a different dependency to ours, one that appears to have more power than the powerless dependency we find ourselves navigating. When we feel at our worst, this is hugely toxic, as we become judgemental, and we are constantly seeking validation, looking for permission to contribute. The motivational energy at dependency is depleting, creating suppression of our beautiful selves and our own identity. Can you take a moment to imagine what this must feel like for our children, our teens, never mind us as adults?

Take the example of a mother who came to me desperate for her son to be coached. “I feel I have spoilt my child” she said. “he is just not able to do anything for himself and his confidence is at an all-time low”. Where does this dependency come from we may ask ourselves? As adults, we need to take a look at our own behaviours and the impact on our children. When we do everything for our children, we disempower them, and yet conversely, their confidence comes from overcoming and being able to say “I made a plan and I did it”. Not all adversity is bad for our children because it’s through adversity we learn our Strengths and what we are made of. Yet very often, unwittingly, parents are robbing their children of this growth. We then wonder why our children are suffering with lack of self-esteem.

Think back to your own childhood. How good did it feel when you were treated as an ‘adult’ by your own parents or caregivers? I remember as young as 10 years of age, my mother teaching us how to make a Sunday roast. I felt hugely proud of my achievements as I served each of our family members with a delicious meal. This simple act reinforced my own capabilities, yet today, parents are doing everything for their children in an effort to show their love - yet as you can see, this becomes counterproductive. The knock-on implications are our children cannot hold their own confidence with their peers and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of spiralling negativity.


Lastly, yet in some respects, more importantly, is a close look at Independence and how we have confused independence with freedom. When teens say they want their independence, what they are really stating is they want freedom, freedom to express their own agency, freedom to contribute to the whole. Sadly, independence can come across as a very powerful dependency and you might be asking yourself ‘what’s wrong with this?’ Yet when we look at the power dynamics at play, we will begin to see that when someone becomes independent, they now have the opportunity to wield power over others. This change in the balance of power dynamics ‘forces’ whoever is in this situation to choose which ‘dependency’ they are going to move towards in the relationship, like a strategic game of chess, competing for power.

We have to have walked in independence in order to know what it feels like, before we can move to interdependence.

There is a time when independence serves us. It allows us to feel what we are made of in relation to ourselves, others, and our environments. Therefore, we cannot move towards interdependence until we ourselves know who we are, what we are made of, and experience our own personal contributions to the family, society, and the greater good.

Independence gives us this power and agency over ourselves and our choices, and yet when we use this against others, when we are unconscious, and do not express our independence well, we gain power over others with dire consequences. This is where the conflict between parents and teens is at its worst. Independence can push others to a dependency mindset, it can create co-dependent groups, worse yet, it can push others to join you in independence, then the battle of wills for power really creates negative conflict, even leading to outright war. Hopefully, what we begin to realise if we are awake and conscious, is the un-sustainability over a period of time, because the consequence to ourselves, others, and the environments in which we play become significantly toxic. No one wants to stay in a relationship where others yield the power over them. Independence brings only short-term wins and is unsustainable over long-haul. Why is this?

Independent people, at surface level, look like they have it all together. These are the people shouting the odds and giving the orders. It doesn’t matter that others feel belittled, insignificant, undervalued, dis-empowered. Independence is all about getting our needs met no matter what, disregarding the feelings and needs of others, and the obvious consequences that comes with putting ourselves first. When we go into independence our Strengths go into overdrive in an effort to get our own needs met first. I’ll be the first one to admit, we have all been in this dependency and the power can become an aphrodisiac. Independence can bring short-term wins. However, long-term, relationships are broken down as a consequence, along with our own confidence and health.

Rob points out here: “If you’ve been a teacher you might relate to my experience of wanting to be ‘in control’ in the classroom. For a number of years, I felt the pressure to be the ‘expert’, I was operating independently leading to the one-way street of giver-receiver. A fixed mindset led me to believe I had to have all the answers, any perceived weakness would see my credibility vanish. There had to be very clear boundaries in how we operated in the classroom. “I” wrote and held the script and, as long as the exam results impressed the parents and the ‘powers that be’, why would anything need to change? Yet any of the dependencies in the Circle of Toxicity are unsustainable over a long period of time. The negative impact of operating from independence lead to passivity in the students; their ideas, energy and enthusiasm becoming stifled because ‘this is the way things are always done’. Without the extrinsic motivation of ‘house points’, upcoming exams and reports, life in the classroom would become flat, and my energy levels drained”.

No one wants to maintain relationships with someone who thinks only of their own needs and have all the answers unless there’s something in it for you. Ask yourself this question: “how do you feel working with someone who is independent, when they come across as a ‘know it all’, talk over others and are controlling?” If we have a to think about it consciously, these people are extremely judgemental and egotistical in their behaviours, because they think only of themselves, see themselves as the expert, and that we ‘are the idiots’. They tend to give an impression of being ‘better than’ everyone else. There’s no question when we’re around such people we do begin to question our own abilities. Independent people are often ‘know-it-all’s’ and never listen because they feel they have all the answers. Around people like this, we feel disenfranchised, disempowered, and dependent. Let’s not even think about the toxicity that arises when two independent people are battling it out for leadership and power. Teens and parents know this experience only too well.

When you think of how teens feel around parents and adults who behave this way, is it any surprise they begin to rebel or regress? It is a natural progression to want to be our own person, after all we all we each are endowed with between 12-15 intrinsic talent patterns. These are our Strengths which dictate our unique needs and contributions and help form our identity. If you are an Empath for instance, you contribute empathy and at the same time need other to empathise with you, hence what we contribute, we also need. Our Strengths dictate how we think, feel, and behave, and there is a 476 trillion chance of anyone having the same top 10 Strengths in the same order as yours. Therefore, we are all so very different from anyone else, and have a need to contribute in our own way. Is it any wonder then, that there is so much disengagement in a world struggling to make individuals conform? I’m afraid to say, the ‘fight’ and discord between parents and teens, will continue unless we can buy into, and practice, interdependent rules of engagement© and for this I’d like to suggest we replace the term independence with freedom.


In the last part in this series we'll continue the discussion on the transition from the 'Circle of Toxicity' to interdependence, as well as replacing the construct of independence with freedom, and why it is important to practice what Brene Brown terms 'Confident Vulnerability' to open a window into the soul of intimacy and trust with our teens. Finally, we'll close by helping you to understand the vast benefits of introducing this into all relationships across the board, moving this way of being from the family, into all of our relationships.

If you are looking for Coaching for your family why not have a chat. You’ll find more details here. If you can see benefit in having a Strengths and Interdependence Programme at your child's school, you'll find more information here.

Sam McDonald has been married for 30 yeas and has four children. They are a Strength-based family, using the CliftonStrengths® to enhance marriage & family life. Their home is in Hampton Court, UK and the FalseBay Coast, Cape, SA. She is a Futurist and Chief Visionary Officer for WITH-HUMANITY, a change-maker with a dream to disrupt our current meritocracy by "Unlocking the IntrinsicIdentity © of all Individuals in service of greater human engagement" creating an all inclusive universal value metric and social system.

She is a Normative Visionary, Systems Thinker, Disruptor, Change-Maker & Activist. Graduating Cum Laude with an MPhil in Futures Studies from the University of Stellenbosch, after failing matric, she believes matching one's intrinsic wiring to how we learn yields exponential results, leap-frogging our current education system. She influences thinking in order to create futures-led enquiry & change towards a future we all want to be part of - linking strategic leadership and management with futures thinking. Her use of Interdependent Rules of Engagement© and the CliftonStrength® Assessment, as well as various Foresight Methodologies, are tools of choice to influence mindset change, and help people understand each other's unique world views, which are coloured by what she terms our Strengths Language. She moved to South Africa in 1983 from Nottingham, UK and has lived in both dysfunction and functional environments. These she views as her "cross to bear is your gift to share" - serving as a bridge in understanding how to create function out of chaos.

Rob Fenlon has held teaching positions on four continents, including academic and pastoral leadership roles. He led an award winning industry-education program in Australia which improved the engagement and retention of aboriginal workers in the mining industry. He helps leaders to excel in their professional and personal lives using his years of experience and insights from Gallup CliftonStrength® Assessment and Positive Intelligence (PQ). Rob has worked in some very challenging locations, and takes great pleasure in connecting people to their hidden talents and potential.

Sam, Rob, and r fellow Coaches, work with motivated clients using the CliftonStrength® Assessment as a power tool for:

  • Strength Based Interviewing & Recruitment

  • Assisting motivated individuals to fall in love with their careers and find the work they were born to do.

  • Working with high achievers to discover their value and purpose

  • Working with Start-ups to gain momentum, motivation & self-awareness of the Entrepreneur

  • Assisting Students to gain a greater self-awareness, expediting their career path, building confidence and self-esteem.

  • Working with individuals to re-engage in their work environments & leveraging their strengths

  • Working with marriage relationships to help you love again and understand the toxicity, reduce negative experiences, create understanding and, in turn, assist with long-term strategies for lasting transformation

  • Finding your true Purpose, Passion and Value in Life

  • Falling in love with your life and work again

  • She teaches the 'Interdependent Rules of Engagement© & Vulnerability' to focus on living 'Interdependence' as the key to healthier environments - choosing this as 'rules of engagement' over 'Dependence', 'Co-Dependence' & 'Independence'.

Follow the link if you would like to take the Strengths Assessment and here to read more about how to discover who you are at your core.

49 views0 comments
bottom of page