How Parents Influence Children: A Parenting Influence Model

* * *  In this short excerpt from “How to Listen so Parents will Talk” we describe a model with four strategies for how parents influence their children. Over the next several days I will include more information about each of these four parental influence strategies. * * *

Although some individuals might suggest that adults always try to control children—and children (especially adolescents) always try to rebel against generational pressure and oppression—we see the world of adult–child relationships through a much rosier lens. In particular, we believe most adults don’t really want to control and oppress children and that most children, though striving for individuation and independence, are not automatically rebellious or oppositional. Instead, we believe most adults want to shape or influence children’s (especially their children’s) thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and most children feel the need to rebel only when their parents slip into an excessively controlling style.

As we move forward with this explanation of the parent influence model (PIM), we’re aware that some professionals and some parents may have negative reactions to the idea of using power or being an authority figure. Nevertheless, our rationale for describing a parent influence model is based on the reality of parent–child power differences. In this regard, we’re in agreement with the sentiment in the following passage by Grosshans & Burton (2008), who stated:

When you become a parent, you take on not only an unprecedented responsibility, but you are immediately imbued with an unparalleled dimension of power in relationship to another human being. Whether you philosophically agree with it, want it, or feel prepared or equipped to exercise it, when you are a parent, you’ve got it. In fact, you are the most powerful person the world to your child, because she depends on you for everything. (p. 17)

Let’s face the reality that parents automatically have power—and focus on how they can use it appropriately, humanely, and respectfully.

Based on the PIM, parents have four power sources (Wood’s, 1996, original social power labels are in parentheses):

1. Direct power (coercion)

2. Problem-solving power (expertness)

3. Indirect power (manipulation)

4. Relationship power (likability)

These power sources are presented in an order such that, if you were to overlay a triangle on this list, direct power would be at the tip and relationship power at the base. This is because relationship power functions as the foundation for all other power and influence approaches or strategies. Tomorrow I’ll begin discussing how parents can use and abuse “direct power” which lies at the tip of the PIM pyramid and work my way down in coming days.

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