Sunshine and Hurricanes – November 28, 2017
by Kira Lewis
Does it feel like your disrespectful teens and tweens need an attitude adjustment?
The door opens and in walks the tween or teen. You sense their arrival because the energy in the air completely shifts. You can almost feel the skin on your arms and the back of your neck begin to prickle.
There is one of two ways things go down from here.
There will either be the “quick escape” where the child attempts to avoid all eye contact and race to their room without having to engage in any kind of normal human interaction. (This is almost the one I prefer)
Stomping of the feet will be followed by a dramatic dropping of the book bag onto the floor or table. Overly exaggerated sighing will commence followed by scowls in the direction of siblings, dogs or any other living creature in the general vicinity. Any attempts to engage will be met with eye rolling or the silent treatment. Perhaps there might be an “ugh” or “whatever” muttered under their breath as they head straight for the fridge.
And we thought the terrible twos were annoying.
Dealing with disrespectful teens and tweens and their attitudes (as well as their multiple personalities) can be frustrating. It’s a bit like playing Russian roulette. At any given encounter you’re not sure if something dangerous is going to come exploding forth or whether it will all be a lot of anxiety over nothing.
There are times when you still see glimpses of that sweet child who used to hold your hand, give hugs freely and cuddle up to you on the couch. In those moments, you find yourself wanting to pull them toward you hoping to hold on just a little longer.
But right when you think you’ve got a solid grip on them, they push away.
It’s tough and confusing – for both of you.
The dance of adolescence is a complicated one. Our tweens and teens seem determined to keep us busting a move to the beat of their moody music. But if we master these five steps we may find that we can return our households to a much more harmonious rhythm.
5 Ways to Deal with Disrespectful Teens or Tweens
1. Recognize When They Are Pushing Your Buttons
When your child is standing there in front of you with their face full of attitude and nonsense coming out of their mouth it can be so hard to keep it together.
One of my favorite stories ever is from a mom with two teen girls who I thought was so full of sunshine and patience she would never lose it with her kids. One morning she and her family were sitting by their pool having breakfast. Her oldest daughter was annoyed about some teen drama and taking it out on everyone else at the table, making the meal increasingly unpleasant. The conversation continued to escalate until the mom finally got so fed up, she picked up her coffee cup and hurled it right past her daughter’s head and into the pool.
“I really wanted to throw that right at your head,” she said. “You’re lucky I love you enough to miss.”
This isn’t endorsing throwing things at our children, but it is a great example of how expertly they push our buttons and that even the best of us won’t always be able to show the restraint we should.
Unfortunately, when we match their intensity with our own frustrations, anger and yelling (and throwing things) it only serves to add fuel to the flames of their inner angst. And we become an unwilling role model, reinforcing the same behavior and actions we’re trying to move them away from.
2. Keep It Calm
When possible, even though it may require enormous restraint on our parts, the better approach is to keep our voices at normal volume and tone. Set the rules of engagement for them. Explain that you’ll be happy to listen or talk with them about the issue if they can do so in a more reasonable way.
They want to be in charge and they are hoping to bait you into meeting them on their turf, where they’ve got the advantage. Refusing to match their level of Defcon Five intensity allows you to take back control and may in itself be enough to disarm the situation.
If they still can’t pull it together, give them some space and time to cool down. Revisit the issue later when everything isn’t so emotionally charged. But be sure they know you’re not blowing them off or letting them off the hook. You might even set a specific time, like after dinner or the upcoming weekend.
Either way, you’ve taken a power struggle and turned into something less volatile and more productive.
3. Don’t Take It Personally
Tweens and teens are experts and knowing exactly how to use words as weapons. They understand how to inflict the most damage with even the simplest things they say.
As their parents, we become almost daily targets in their ongoing battle of them against the world. Wow, can it be painful, but we need to realize it isn’t personal.
The tween and teen years are filled with turmoil. Hormones are raging, bodies are changing in sometimes confusing and uncomfortable ways, and their brains aren’t yet fully developed to help them cope with all of this.
They are also stuck in this place where adulthood is approaching and they are striving for more independence, but at the same time they are desperately seeking the approval of everyone in their life from parents to peers.
We were all their once. Try to think back to what it was like during this time for you. You surely said some things, or maybe lots of things, to your parents that you regret. But as long as you came from a fairly healthy home, you and your parents survived and probably have a good relationship these days.
For the most part, the surly demeanor of our tweens and teens is a simple defense mechanism. They’re scared and unsure and often this is when our kids lash out the most. This was true even when they were younger. They are testing us, looking for reassurance that we will love them, no matter what.
So, even at their ugliest, we need to meet them where they are with love.
4. Reinforce Rules and Respect
Now, we can show our kids fierce love without allowing them to run right over us. We should all take the following words to heart, ” Unconditional Love Doesn’t Mean That You Have To Unconditionally Accept Bad Behaviors.”
Giving grace becomes an important tool in these tween and teens years, but so does setting limits. They are still children and they not only need, but often want boundaries. It helps them to know what to expect from you and what you expect of them.
They can have bad moods and they can be angry with us. We need to give them the space for all those emotions. However, they need us to guide them on how to properly express those emotions and what the rules are when it comes to their behavior.
Although TV, social media and many other influences our older children are exposed to may provide poor examples, we have to be the balancing voice reinforcing that speaking to others disrespectfully is not acceptable. I often respond to my children when they are talking to me or even to each other in a rude way that “we are a family and we talk to each other using kind words.”
It’s also totally okay for us let our tweens and teens know when they’ve hurt our feelings. Challenging them to think about how the things they say and do impact others is vital when it comes to developing empathy.
If they want to be treated like adults, they have to act like adults. We show them how by defining what being disrespectful and hurtful looks like and by consistently enforcing the consequences when they cross the line.
5. Skip the Lectures
Now when it comes to enforcing those consequences, it can be SO tempting to full on school them about all the reasons why the way they are acting is ridiculous.
Our tweens and teens are often convinced that they are the smartest people in the world. The ironic thing is they think this way because their brains aren’t fully developed. They are at a stage in life where they are more prone to impulsive behavior and they have difficulty grasping the long-term consequences of their decisions.
It can be maddening that our smart kids seem to have suddenly gone dumb and their “I don’t care” attitudes are just asking for a serious shake down. Unfortunately, we could be the greatest speech givers since Alexander Hamilton, but we are NEVER going to persuade them to see things our way. Even if it is obviously the right way ?
Instead of wasting time and driving yourself crazy, I’m taking you back to step 4
No kid on the face of this planet has ever walked away from a parental lecture and suddenly experienced an epiphany about the value of doing chores or getting their homework done. We are not going to talk them into being less self centered or responsible.
But we have other ways to create the motivation we are seeking.
The secret to our success isn’t in proving them right or wrong. It doesn’t need to be a struggle or a shouting match. It is simply about setting expectations and enforcing consequences.
They aren’t getting their chores done
Let them know you’ll be deducting your labor cost from their allowance. Oh, and since doing other people’s work is overtime for you it’s going to be expensive.
Homework isn’t being handed in or it’s sloppy
Inform them that privileges like cell phones, TV time, extra-curricular activities and outings with friends all have to be earned…with good grades.
They don’t want to get a job
Every dollar you spend on non-necessities for them will now have to be matched by a dollar from them. This means their cell phone bill, movies with friends, gas and insurance for their car.
You get the idea and so will they.
The Power of Praise
Lastly, in all of this, lets not forget that praise can be powerful as well.
When our kids do show maturity in handling a situation, whether by initiating a respectful conversation or even knowing when they need a few minutes to calm down before talking with us, we should absolutely let them know that we are proud of them.
Underneath all the snark, our lovable kid is still in there somewhere. They need us now, more than ever, even if they tell us otherwise. So, hang in there through the sighs, and eye rolls and sarcasm. One day, the thank you will come and it will be worth every battle, both fought and walked away from.