How to Handle Teens’ Rude Behavior During Lockdown

Rude behavior is fairly common among adolescents, but with so many families locked down in their homes during the pandemic, the problem is likely increasing. Everyone’s stress levels are higher, which makes all of us a little less patient and a lot more frustrated.

As children enter adolescence, they begin to create a sense of identity and attempt to differentiate themselves from others. This developmental process means that they begin to think more critically, and they will often apply this critical thinking to those closest to them. They might not even realize how rude they are being.

Although rude behavior is normal in the teen years, that doesn’t mean that it should go unchecked. 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.

To get through this pandemic with your sanity intact, consider these strategies to deal with rude behavior from your teen:

Don’t take it personally.

It’s hard to not take a teen’s criticism and rude behavior personally. It hurts. It makes us feel angry. However, most of the time, a teen’s disrespect is much more about them testing limits and expressing independence than anything about you. Your teen’s brain is still developing so they haven’t mastered managing their emotions or controlling their impulses. It’s easier to deal with their rude behavior in a calm way when we can realize that it’s not about us.

Stay calm.

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.

Ask for their guidance.

If your teen criticizes something about you, such as your clothes or the way you cook, consider asking your teen to help you improve. Perhaps they can go shopping with you to choose a new outfit or they can help you find a recipe that you can cook together. Offering teens a voice may ease their urge to express their growing independence in rude ways and it might give them a new perspective in what challenges you face.

Pick your battles.

Pick your battles wisely. It is the nature of teens to try pushing your buttons. If your child has drawn you into a fight with disrespectful behavior in the past, be prepared that he/she will try to do it again. Critiques and impolite behaviors may make you angry, but they don’t necessarily require a response. Sometimes the best thing you can do is ignore the small stuff.

Establish boundaries.

You (and anyone with whom you co-parent, as a team) should take the time to decide what behaviors are, and are not, acceptable to you. That way, you can know what behaviors are “small stuff” to be ignored and what behaviors require action.  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. Once you have determined what are unacceptable behaviors, sit down with the family at a calm time and be specific. For example, you might set a house rule that no family member is allowed to hit, push, name-call, or threaten another family member. 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.

Be a good role model.

Your teen will learn a lot about relationships based on the way you treat others. If you act rude to others, they will, too. If you put down your teen’s clothes, they will do the same to you. If you yell and scream when you’re angry, your teen will respond in kind. 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. Show your teen how to respond in a respectful manner when you disagree with someone else’s point of view or how to give criticism in a kind and constructive way. Do not bad mouth your boss, your child’s teacher or coach, or anyone else in front of your child. If you are rude to your teen, your spouse or those around you, you’re teaching your child that this type of behavior is acceptable. Teens mimic their parents, and if you treat them with respect, those lessons will ingrain themselves into your teen’s actions.

Ignore arguments.

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, teenagers will absolutely 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.

Solve problems together.

At a time when everyone is calm, let your teen know 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 for how to do that. 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.

Notice good behavior.

Instead of constantly calling out your teens for disrespectful behavior, compliment them when they show respect. It’s important to appreciate youth for their good moments because it will reinforce that behavior.

Final Thoughts…

Your role as a parent is to coach teens to find healthy ways to express themselves in difficult situations so that they can be successful in college, marriage, and career. Is this harder when you’re all locked down together in one location during a stressful situation for an extended period of time? Of course it is! And, you should certainly be kind to yourself when you make a mistake. But if you can work to apply the strategies above, you will go a long way towards reducing the tension in your home and instilling the value of respect in your teens, which will benefit them throughout their lives.

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