How to Handle a Disrespectful Teen?
Every parent wants a good relationship with their teen. Most parents, and even most teens, agree that a good relationship starts with trust. But what happens when that trust is broken?
The biggest complaint I hear from the parents I mentor is that they have a disrespectful teen.
This is a sure sign that the trust between parent and child has been broken, and healing the wound between the two can be very difficult. Especially when the cycle of disrespect has been going on for a very long time, often it’s hard to tell where it begins or ends!
Regardless of how you think this vicious cycle started, YOU, as a parent, have to be the one to initiate positive change in the relationship. That change starts with asking yourself what you’ve done to contribute to the situation.
Let’s step into your teen’s reality for a moment and do a little role-playing.
Instead of it being your teen, imagine it’s an authority figure in YOUR life. Maybe it’s your boss or a coworker or your spouse. What makes you be sassy or rude to someone? Usually it’s triggered by something, right?
For a teen, disrespect, sass, and sarcasm usually occur for at least one of the following reasons:
- They feel like you don’t hear them, disrespect them, that you don’t trust him/her, that you don’t value their words, thoughts, or feelings.
- They are feeling insecure and are looking to boost their self esteem. Hey—you’ve done this at some point, too!
- They want more of your attention, and are feeling neglected.
How would these motivations be triggered? Let’s do some more role-playing.
Scenario: You and your daughter fit into the same sized clothes, which is fun for the both of you. Often you peruse through your daughter’s closet when she isn’t home, and borrow her clothes without asking. At the same time, if she were to do the same thing to you, you would probably become upset. When she asks you to please ask her before you borrow her clothing, you brush her off. It was only once or twice!
Trigger: This is a clear sign of disrespect, as you would usually ask another person if you could borrow their belongings. When you violate your daughter’s property and her room, it makes her feel as if you see her as less of a person and that she doesn’t deserve what is otherwise common courtesy. Put yourself in her shoes. Would you feel inclined to continue respecting someone who can’t even abide by simple boundaries or requests? Would you want your daughter to make friends with someone who did that to her?
Solution: Often, disrespect from a child is rooted and fueled in them feeling violated or disrespected. Maybe it’s not just the clothes. You eat food off of her plate at a restaurant without asking or being invited, you use her makeup without her permission, or you turn the channel when she’s watching something. Perhaps when she’s speaking with you, you interrupt or talk over her, or you overreact to things she shares with you instead of listening.
All of these examples would be a clear signal to your daughter that you think you are above her and her basic rights. If this sounds like it’s occurring in your house, think of all the different instances where you may unintentionally be doing this. Talk to your daughter about it. Find out what gets under her skin and come up with a solution to overcome these violations, together. Give each other room to make this transition, as it can take some time to adjust. Be honest with yourself about how you’re doing and firmly commit to changing these habits. It has to start with you!
If you have a hard time talking to your teen, please feel free to check out my other blog series: How to Talk to Your Teen.
Scenario: You have a young teen boy who has just started high school. You’ve noticed that he has been quiet and brooding around the house (or the polar opposite: loud and obnoxious). You’ve tried to start up a conversation with him several times, but he’s unresponsive. He seems outside of himself, but you don’t know how to help him. Every time you pay him a compliment he either becomes overly confident and boastful, or he shrugs it off and doesn’t believe you. When he chooses to speak to you it’s either one word answers, yelling, or sarcasm. He is quick to cut you down, and it hurts.
Trigger: It appears your teen is struggling with his self confidence. This is very normal in teens going through transitions, trying to make new friends, or juggling many tasks at the same time. The easiest way to deal with feelings you don’t understand is to attack the people closest to you (you’ve probably done this a few times in your life too). You may watch him swing wildly from overly confident, loud, and boastful, to quiet, tired, sad or passive-aggressive.
Solution: When your teen begins to act out, calmly give him boundaries and ask him to come back and talk to you when he wants to be calm and have a civil conversation. To help your teen with his confidence and sense of self, simply ask him about his day-to-day experiences and thoughts. Let him know that you are always available when he wants to talk (If your conversations quickly turn to fights, please don’t hesitate to visit my article series, How to Talk to Your Teen).
Scenario: Recently your teen has started to act out in public. They say things that embarrass you and make you feel like an awful parent. Up until now your teen has had good manners and acted well, most of the time.
Now they’re acting out in class, getting bad grades, and making life miserable for whoever crosses their path.
Trigger: Your teen is undergoing the biggest learning curve of their lives. Often it can be scary for a teen, and they don’t know (or are embarrassed) to communicate their fears and struggles with you. So instead of asking you for your time, they take it from you with inappropriate or bad behavior.
Solution: It’s more important now, than ever, that you let your teen know that you are there for him/her. Yet, it’s more than that. The challenge for you is that you have to go from managing your child’s life to helping guide him as he navigates his life by him. Spend weekly allotted time talking about his/her day, having fun together, and letting them learn about the world around them. When they make mistakes, don’t panic or react. Take the time to respond, reflect, and let them correct their mistakes. Act like a trail guide for them, you’ve been here before, you know the landscape, and you can safely guide them through it to the other side. All they have to do is trust you.
Take note that this isn’t an instantaneous change for either one of you. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and healing your relationship isn’t going to happen overnight. You need to make a conscious choice to give this 30-60 days of conscientious effort on your part. The time will fly, and you’ll be surprised to see your teen’s behavior take a turn for the better. Leadership has a trickle-down effect, and it starts with you!
Even though this is hard, I want you to think about the several benefits that you gain by practicing these skills. Though these skills will directly apply to your disrespectful teen, it can also apply to a spouse, a co-worker or manager, a sibling, or even your own parents.
Give yourself a pat on the back—making this commitment to change is going to grow you into a better, happier you!
Need to talk to someone about your teen? Take a moment to speak with me personally on a 100% FREE Personal Discovery Session. I’ve spent over 20 years mentoring parents and teens, so take this opportunity to join me today!
Debra Beck is a devoted mother, sought-after presenter, author, and has spent over 20 years working with teens and their parents. She’s helped thousands of teen girls develop their self-esteem through her blog, one-on-one mentoring sessions, and mother-daughter retreats.
Her award-winning book My Feet Aren’t Ugly: A Girl’s Guide to Loving Herself was revised and updated for re-release in September 2011 with Beaufort Books.