The teen years are notoriously challenging for parents. Much like the toddler years, kids sometimes seem intent on doing exactly the opposite of what we ask. Disrespectful or rude behavior in teenagers is quite common. Although this phase will eventually pass, there are some strategies that can help you handle disrespect from your child in the meantime.
Sometimes you might feel that interactions with your child all seem a bit like this:
You: How is your project going?
Your child: (sigh and eye roll) Why are you asking? Don’t you trust that I will get it down? You are always questioning me!
You: I was just asking to make sure things are going okay.
Your child: Yeah…..sure you were…….mumble…..grumble…..mumble…….
As a parent, you might feel hurt, worried and unsure about what’s happened when you have conversations like this. Your child used to value your interest or input, but now it seems that even the most simple conversations turn into arguments.
There are reasons for your child’s behavior. The good news is this phase will usually end.
Disrespect: Where does it come from?
Not all teenagers will be rude or disrespectful, but some disrespect is a normal part of teenage growth and development. Your child is learning to express and test out his/her own independent ideas, so there will be times when you disagree. Developing independence is a key part of growing up.
A child’s moods can change quickly. Due to how teenage brains develop, your child isn’t always able to quickly handle changing feelings and reactions to everyday or unexpected things. This can sometimes lead to over-sensitivity.
Teenagers are starting to think in a deeper way than they did a few years earlier. They can have thoughts and feelings they’ve never had before. Some young people seem to burst into the world with a conflicting and radical view on everything. This shift to deeper thinking is a normal part of development too.
No matter how grumpy or cross your child gets, he/she still values talking and connecting with you. You just might need to be a bit more understanding if he/she is short tempered or has frequent shifts in mood. It can help to remember that this phase will pass.
Handling your teen’s disrespectful behavior
Tips for discipline
- Set clear rules about behavior and communication. For example, you could say, ‘We speak respectfully in our family. This means we don’t call people names’. Involving your children in discussions about rules means you can later remind them that they helped make the rules, and agreed to them.
- Focus on your child’s behavior and how you feel about it. Avoid any comments about your child’s personality or character. Instead of saying, ‘You’re rude’, try something like, ‘I feel hurt when you speak like that to me’. It’s OK to occasionally say clearly how you’re feeling – ‘I’m feeling furious with you just now. You’d feel the same’.
- Set and use consequences, but try not to set too many. At times, it might be appropriate to use consequences for things like rudeness, swearing or name-calling.
- Give positive reinforcement. Praise and reward your child for making good choices and behaving in an prosocial manner.
Tips for communication
- Stay calm. This is important if your child reacts with ‘attitude’ to a discussion. Stop, take a deep breath, and continue calmly with what you wanted to say.
- Use humor. A shared laugh can break a stalemate, bring a new perspective or lighten the tone of a conversation. Being lighthearted can also help take the heat out of a situation – but avoid mocking, ridiculing or being sarcastic.
- Ignore your child’s shrugs, raised eyes and bored looks if he/she is generally behaving the way you’d like him/her to.
- Sometimes teenagers are disrespectful without meaning to be rude. A useful response can be something like, ‘That comment came across as pretty offensive. Did you mean to behave rudely?’
- Use descriptive praise with your teenager for positive communication. When you have a positive interaction, point this out to your children. This lets them know you’re aware of and value their opinions.
Tips for relationships
- Be a role model. When you’re with your child, try to speak and act the way you want your child to speak and act towards you.
- If there’s a lot of tension between you and your child, another adult you know and trust, such as an aunt, uncle or family friend, might be able to support your child through this period. Involving someone like this can be a great way to ease the strain.
Things to avoid
- Arguing rarely works for parents or teenagers. When we get angry, we can say things we don’t mean. A more effective approach is to give yourself some time to calm down.
- If you’re angry or in the middle of an argument, it will be hard to calmly discuss what you expect of your child. A more effective approach is to tell him that you want to talk, and agree on a time.
- Being defensive is very rarely useful. Try not to take things personally.
- Even though you have more life experience than your child, lecturing him/her about how to behave is likely to cause your child to shut down and not listen. If you want your child to listen to you, you might need to spend time actively listening to him/her.
- Nagging isn’t likely to have much effect. It might increase your frustration, and your child will probably just switch off.
- Sarcasm will almost certainly create resentment and increase the distance between you and your child.
As kids progress through the teen years, you’ll notice a slowing of the highs and lows of adolescence. Eventually, they’ll become independent, responsible, communicative young adults. So, remember the motto of many parents with teens: We’re going through this together, and we’ll come out of it — together!