7 Ways to Deal with Disrespect from your Teen
Backtalk. Eye-rolling. Name-calling. Door-slamming. If these are common occurrences in your home, you are likely living with a teenager. While this type of behavior is common in adolescence, parents should not just accept it. Your job is to help your teen change rude behavior by teaching them how to express anger in a healthy way, how to state their viewpoint respectfully despite their frustration, how to solve the problem at hand, and how to listen to other’s viewpoints – these are vital life skills.
Avoiding the problem, or thinking your teen will grow out of this “phase,” does not work. In fact, research shows that rude teens mature into rude adults. The way you, as a parent, respond to your teen’s disrespect absolutely influences whether or not it will continue – in your family and in your teen’s future.
Here are the most effective ways to respond when your teen uses disrespectful behavior:
Establish Rules that Emphasize Respect
You must first decide what behaviors are, and are not, acceptable to you. It’s important to choose your battles during this time. For example, if your teen is calling you names and rolling their eyes at you, then clearly the more important behavior to address is the name-calling. Perhaps eye rolling – although annoying – is a fairly harmless way to express frustration and not worth the fight, while name-calling is completely unacceptable. Or, if you feel that both behaviors need to be addressed, choose to work on one first, and then move on to the next behavior. If you try to tackle everything at once, it can become overwhelming.
Once you have decided what behaviors you will not tolerate, it’s time to sit down with your teen, during a calm time, and state clearly what he/she can or can’t do. Be specific about what is respectful and disrespectful. Although you may feel that swearing is obviously disrespectful, you need to state that clearly to your child. Do not assume they know which behaviors are unacceptable. Make it clear that in your house, name-calling, threats, or put downs won’t be tolerated. Set clear, specific, firm limits on what is allowed and not allowed, and explain the consequences for using unacceptable behavior.
Create Realistic Consequences Ahead of Time
Consequences should be realistic. For example, for every mean comment your teen says, you could cut a dollar off their allowance, reduce their curfew by 30 minutes, or decrease their screen time by an hour. Small punishments that fit the crime and get their attention will be most effective in the case of disrespect.
It is an excellent idea for you to decide ahead of time what consequences you want to give for each type of behavior. Although you will not be able to think of all the possible scenarios ahead of time, it will at least provide a starting point so that in the heat of the moment, when your teen acts disrespectfully, you won’t overreact and dole out some unreasonable punishment – you will already have a well-thought out response. These consequences should be communicated to your teen when you explain the rules so they are completely aware of the penalties for breaking the rules.
Follow Through with Consequences Consistently
If your teen breaks a rule, there must be consequences for that behavior or your expectations will mean nothing. Some parents like to give warnings, but the problem is that, many times, they are not consistent. Sometimes they will give one warning before they hand out the consequence. Other times they will be angry and offer no warnings, while sometimes they will feel generous and provide multiple warnings. You are not doing your child any favors by being inconsistent. Consider your conversation about expectations as your teen’s warning (and tell your teen it’s their warning, as well), and as soon as they break a rule, immediately remove privileges or impose additional responsibilities. Also, remember that your consequences are not up for discussion or argument, nor should they be explained in a long-winded lecture. Do not negotiate with your child, back down, or let him/her draw you into an argument about the consequence that you are enforcing. Be confident, firm, and consistent.
Take a deep breath. Staying calm is the most important thing you can do when your teen is acting disrespectful. Yelling or arguing will only escalate the situation. If you stoop to their level and shoot a smart comment back to them, you have only taught them that back talk is acceptable behavior, regardless of what you have said. Instead, do whatever you need to do to keep your temper in check. You might need to walk away for a few minutes to calm down – go to another room, shut the door, and take deep breaths.
When you are calm, simply state that they have broken one of the rules, that their behavior does not meet your expectations, and give them the consequence you have already decided upon for that behavior. By doing this, you are demonstrating a healthy way to deal with anger and conflict.
Teens will absolutely try to engage you in an argument. Whether they are trying to get you to change your mind, obtain something they want, or delay doing something you’ve asked them to do, they will try to guilt you, negotiate rules and consequences, or distract you with other issues. Do not engage in an argument. Stay calm and simply restate the expectation and consequence – then ignore them and don’t give in. If you will do this, the behavior will stop. If you argue or give in to their desire, you have only reinforced that their disrespectful behavior works and it will continue.
When you are having your conversation about expectations – when everyone is calm – make sure that you offer the opportunity for your teen to provide input. Explain that your goal is for everyone in the family to be respectful to each other, and then invite your teen to offer ideas and strategies about how to address the problem, too. They may have some valuable information that could help the situation. For example, if your teen says she talks back because you always tell her to do the dishes during her favorite TV program, you can decide that she is allowed to do the dishes as soon as her program is over. Working together to problem solve the situation will improve your communication, build respect, increase your chances of success, and improve your teen’s self-esteem.
Follow the Rules Yourself
Make sure that you, as parents, are walking your talk. If you establish that name calling is not tolerated, then you cannot call your teen a “spoiled brat” and expect your teen to never call you a name later. Make sure that you are speaking to your teen respectfully – avoid sarcasm, name-calling, put downs, and threats. Teens mimic their parents, and if you treat them with respect, those lessons will ingrain themselves into your teen’s actions.
Parents, keep in mind that you are training your children for adulthood. Disrespect does not resolve conflicts, and it is your responsibility to help teens learn how to express anger and problem solve in positive ways, even when they are frustrated. Your role is to coach them to find healthy ways to express themselves in difficult situations so that they can be successful in college, marriage, and career.