As they toil to discover themselves during their adolescent years, teens can seemingly act disrespectfully towards their parents. While normal teen behavior of questioning authority is sometimes misinterpreted as a disrespectful attitude, teens who genuinely and malevolently behave disrespectfully to their parents need to be sent a message. Unless it is quashed, openly disrespectful teen behavior will only escalate; to quell the rebellion you must express to your teen, in no uncertain terms, that you are done being disrespected.
Take a breath. Teens are as teens do and you need to accept that testing limits is part of the maturation process. As the adult, you need to know when to step back and look at the situation objectively.
Reach the realization that your teen is not your friend. You are the parent and she is the child, and you must establish that fact as the bases of your relationship with her. James Lehman, MSW, points out that by trying to make your teen your friend you send the message that she is your equal, giving her the sense that she can help you make the rules. Then, when she doesn’t get what she wants, she will become upset and behave disrespectfully towards you.
Take responsibility for the problem. As with all children, teens learn what they can, and can’t, get away with from their parents. Like it or not, if you have taught your teen that she can get away with treating you in a disrespectful manner you are the one who now has to teach her that you are no longer going to put up with her disrespectful attitude. Janet Lehman, MSW, states, "If your child is talking back all the time and you’re not setting firm limits around it, make no mistake, you are training him to do it more often."
Establish limits. Tell your teenager, in a quiet but measured tone that leaves absolutely no room for misinterpretation, that you will no longer tolerate her behavior. Tell her, “I am though putting up with your disrespectful attitude. The next time you talk to me that way there will be serious consequences for you -- and if you think I’m kidding just test me one more time.” If you get the typical teenage response of “What are you going to do?” simply reply, “Wait and find out.” The uncertainty of her fate will resonate with her much stronger than if you let her know what she can expect the next time she steps over the line.
Follow through. Find out what is most important to your teen and be ready to take that privilege away for long enough to be sure she gets the message the first time. For example, if she lives for the independence driving gives her, taking her driving privileges away for a month will show her you are all through playing around. Just be sure you stick to your guns and are prepared to drive her to school, if needed.
Stay out of fights. Power struggles occur when parents begin trying to negotiate with their teens. Almost by definition, teenagers tend not to act rationally, and any negotiation where your teen doesn’t get her way has a good probability of ending with a disrespectful comment.
Modify your response. The Child and Family Center in Santa Clarita, California, which provides behavioral and education services to adults and families, recommends using “I” statements when taking with your teen. For example, tell you teen, “I feel that you have no respect for me as your parent when you raise you voice to me.”
Pick your battles. Accept that your teen is becoming an adult and trying to learn how to assert herself. If you make every little thing a fight, that is exactly what you are going to get. Let the small stuff, like mumbling under her breath, go, and clamp down on the big things, such as her calling you a very bad word, like the steel jaws of a bear trap.
Accentuate the positive. From birth through graduation, it is always easier to encourage positive behavior than to discourage negative actions. Look for things your teen does right, no matter how small, and reward her for it. The more you show her you appreciate the things she does right, the more of an effort she will make to become the daughter you want her to be.
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