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Deal with a Disrespectful Teenager

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The terrible twos don’t have anything on living with a disrespectful teenager. Maybe they stomp to their room and slam the door as soon as they get home. Or they roll their eyes and scowl threateningly at the closest sibling, parent, or pet. Perhaps your attempts at civil engagement are met with dismissive shrugs and a muttered, “whatever.” Their frequent antisocial behavior is in danger of driving away whatever shred of sanity you have left, and you feel like you are about to snap.

You still love them and want to do everything for them, but you also don’t want them to live without the understanding that there are consequences for their disrespectful behavior.

Don’t panic. Transitioning from childhood into adulthood is tough and stirs up strong emotions.

However, dealing with bad behavior by ignoring it will not teach your teenager the valuable life lessons they need to learn.

Use these tips to help you and your teenager make it through these often-turbulent years.

1. Understand that it’s Mostly Biological

The teenage brain is going through a lot of rewiring, and new connections are growing that haven’t yet fully developed.

The pre-frontal cortex is a crucial area of the brain which controls rational decision-making and impulse control.

In the teenage brain, the pre-frontal cortex still has a way to go before it’s entirely in control of emotions and logical thinking.

As a result, teenagers are quick to frustration, and moods can change in an instant.

When you understand that your teenager is a work-in-progress, it’s easier to condemn the behavior rather than the youngster.

2. Don’t Typecast Your Teenager

When your teenager confronts you with disrespectful behavior, avoid using phrases like: “You are a selfish/rude/lazy person.”

And while you’re at it, you should also avoid criticisms of their behavior like: “You should work harder/turn your phone off/be more polite.”

There’s a decent person in training underneath all the turmoil in a growing teenager, and focusing on the behavior instead of the teenager will help bring it out.

3. Pick Your Fights Wisely

Arguments with an angry, frustrated teenager never end well. Most often, disputes usually escalate into shouting matches or worse, and hurtful things get said that aren’t soon forgotten.

Let your teenager have their space and time to calm down, and then you can take it up with them when they aren’t so emotional. When you do get to talking rationally, remember to focus on the behavior and not the person. Stay calm and use your normal talking voice.

4. Follow Through with Consequences

Rewarding your teenager for good behavior is always helpful, but if you set consequences for bad behavior, it’s critical to follow through on them.

Teenagers need boundaries and are always testing you to find out where they are. Clearly defined limits make teenagers feel more secure, and they learn to trust that you are a person of your word.

Teenagers also learn that you will not tolerate bad behavior. Here are a few ideas on how to handle consequences.

  • Consequences should be reasonable.
  • Keep consequences short-term, so your teenager has time to learn and can move on.
  • Don’t make vindictive statements like “I gave you fair warning” or “you knew what would happen.” These statements will only stir up feelings of resentment and anger and take their focus off the consequences.

5. Know That It’s Not Personal

Parents with disrespectful teenagers often fall into the trap of taking it personally. Eventually, your emotional turmoil builds into resentment against the child, and your focus turns to the person rather than the behavior.

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