How to Deal With A Disrespectful Teen


No one likes to be disrespected, especially by their own children.   As a parent, most everything you do is dedicated to helping your children become a better person, a better scholar, a better athlete, etc.  You disrupt your schedule to get them to school on time, the endless doctor appointments, their extracurricular activities, a friends house, rides home when they are sick, and on and on and on.

You think about your children first and foremost.  You consistently age 10 years in one year worrying about their safety, behavior and decisions.

Are they hanging out with the ‘right’ crowd? 

Are they doing their homework? 

Will they be home at curfew? 

Should I follow them or GPS their phone? 

Will they drink and drive? 

Are they having sex? 

You constantly sacrifice many of your needs and wants and money in order to provide for your children.  You get up late at night to pick them up from a friends if they are sick or upset.  You stay up late worrying about them when they are on an outing.  You give away your last 20 dollars so they can have a good time at the movies.  You worry about whether you should or shouldn’t make them get a job.  Are they getting a good education?  The worries and anxieties go on and on.

You’re exhausted most of the time!

So being disrespected by your teenager, especially when you’re so exhausted, is extremely frustrating.  Teens have a knack for knowing exactly what to say or do to push their parent’s button.  They know you, they know you better than you may know yourself.  And teens, right or wrong, often use disrespect to push your button to meet their own needs.  For example: they need you to back off and they know if you get mad you will walk away.  They need to pick a fight to feel something.  They know if they say this, you’re going to forget about that and they don’t have to answer your question.  Teens are good.  Real good.

Disrespect comes from younger children as well, and even though it sucks, we are better at compassionately explaining it; “They don’t understand”, “They’re overtired”, “They are too little to know they are hurting my feelings.”  But it’s harder to gives teens the same compassionate courtesy.

So here are a few ways to deal with your disrespectful teen:

  1. Don’t flinch

What I mean by this is KEEP YOUR POKER FACE!  Certainly respond to their disrespect as required, but you don’t have to react to the disrespect.  Here’s the difference between responding and reacting: A response is an objective WHOLE minded approach, basically thinking before speaking.   A reaction is an emotional outburst immediately following the trigger, speaking before thinking.

As soon as you react emotionally to your teens disrespect you have shown your hand.  They now know what will work to get you all fired up and emotional.  Once they know this they will attempt to use it again, and when they do and you react again, a pattern is created.  And the dance becomes: parent asks question, teen says something snarky, parent reacts emotionally, teen avoids answering question.

In addition, by reacting to your teens disrespect it puts them in a power position in the relationship.  A position they are NOT emotionally prepared to manage.   They NEED you to respond with calmness, compassion, insight and guidance…otherwise they will run the relationship!  Teenagers are not mature enough to take an alpha role in a relationship with an adult, especially their parent.

2. Use a ‘Code Word’ to Encourage Problem Solving Skills

I know what you’re thinking, ‘My teen is reacting all over the place!’.  Yes, they are.  However, it is developmentally appropriate, they are learning how to emotionally regulate and control their impulses.  They need a good model on how to do this!!

Together with your teenager, come up with a ‘code word’ to help during emotional moments.  TIP: come up with this ‘code word’ ahead of time, not in the moment when you are both upset.  A ‘code word’ is a word or short phrase that either party can blurt out during an emotionally heated situation before they are about to lose their shit and react all over the place.

The rules of the ‘code word’: once uttered both parties agree to not say another word and walk away from each other and chill in their own personal space.  After an established amount of time (one you have established ahead of time), you return to an agreed upon venue to try and discuss the topic again, but calmly.  If the situation heats up again, use the code word and repeat.  Sometimes upon returning and talking it’s best to simply set a time in the future to have the conversation.  That is if it’s a conversation that can wait a day or two.

A ‘code word’ will help your teen learn how to identify when they are getting too upset and interrupt their impulsive outbursts by using the ‘code word’ instead of pressing your buttons.  This conversation technique is a problem solving skill they can utilize in all relationships.  Problems happen, solutions aren’t always our first thought…the ‘code word’ gives you have the opportunity to teach your teen a lifelong problem solving skill that will serve them well.

3.  Reward VS Consequence

When your teen communicates well and controls themself, make sure you praise them for their self control.  Say something like: “I appreciate how you expressed yourself, I feel like it was easier to hear what you were saying because you expressed yourself calmly”.   Praising your teen for self control, emotional regulation and impulse control might not seem like a reward but IT IS!  You are reinforcing their positive and healthy choice to remain calm, respond and express themselves appropriately.

If your teen is telling you something that will require a consequence or you are asking them to explain a poor choice they made, you can still reward their self control and offer a consequence for their mistake at the same time.  You might say something like this: “I am proud of you for expressing yourself calmly and appropriately.  Thank you for sharing your perspective.  I heard you and I believe I understand what happened.  However, there does need to be a consequence for the mistake made.  What do you think would be an appropriate consequence?”

Remember, natural consequences are always best.  Fail a test, have to study and take it again.  Skip school, have to do detention.  Drink and get caught, have to be suspended from extracurricular activities or do community service.  Allow as many natural consequences as you can, natural consequences allow parents to remain in a more supportive role rather than enforcer role.

You’ve got this parents!  Remember, your teens disrespectful behavior IS fairly ‘normal’.  Certainly there are extenuating circumstances, but most teens grow through this stage in their journey through the adolescent stage of development.

It’s only personal if you make it personal.


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