Help… My Teenager is So Disrespectful and I’m Worn Out Trying to Handle It

by Nancy Reynolds

This Post: Help… My Teenager is So Disrespectful and I’m Worn Out Trying to Handle It

As a Mom who’s raised three teens, I’ve certainly dealt with my share of disrespectfulness with my kids through the years. I’d venture to say, that if you’re raising teens it’s bound to happen at one time or another… it simply comes with the territory. 

Help… My Teenager is So Disrespectful and I’m Worn Out Trying to Handle It

 

When my kids started spouting out a few nasty comebacks here and there, snide comments for no reason, and heavy sighs and eye rolls when I asked them to do something mundane like empty the garbage, (disrespect comes in many forms), I scoured the internet looking for answers on how to deal with it. I even spoke with friends who had “been there, done that” and reached out to our family pediatrician for guidance. 

Here’s what I’ve learned… there aren’t any cut-and-dry answers when it comes to dealing with our teen’s disrespect. Why? Because there are too many variables that come into play. A few variables include:

Every Parent Has a Different Definition of Disrespect

Not only does every parent view disrespect differently, but every parent has a different threshold of what they’re willing to tolerate. One parent might feel a heavy sigh or eye roll is intolerable disrespectful behavior, while another may let an eye roll “go” and feel cussing or yelling is the ultimate in disrespect. 

The Frequency or Level of Disrespect Can Trigger a Different Response From Parents

With my kids, their disrespect wasn’t consistent and was typically triggered by being overwhelmed as a result of school demands or their exhaustion from an unrelenting schedule. If they were snarky or disrespectful more often, my reaction would have been entirely different. What made matters more challenging, is that each of my kids handled life differently and tested me in different ways. Thus, I had to handle each of my kids differently when disrespect reared its ugly head.

The Reason a Teenager is Disrespectful Can Vary Greatly

Perhaps they’re frustrated, exhausted, or under far too much pressure. Perhaps they’re losing respect for their parents or they’re feeding off of their parent’s disrespectful behavior (they’re watching everything we say and do). Maybe they only show disrespect when they’re in the presence of friends to be cool. Or, they may be struggling, lonely, hurting and they’re not equipped to deal with their emotions. Yet, it may simply be that they’re getting older and fighting for more control over their own life. EACH of these situations may require a different approach.

Of all the issues we face in our quest to raise decent human beings, dealing with (and putting a halt to) our kids’ disrespect (whether occasional or continual) is likely the most difficult, perplexing, and exhausting challenge we have as parents.

As a mother, I’ve tried every trick in the book to reel my kids in and convey the strong message that disrespect will NOT be tolerated under my roof. As such, I’ve learned a lesson or two. What works and what doesn’t, and, mostly, how to nip it in the bud without losing a connection with your kids – because once the connection is gone, so is your authority. 

This is a parenting subject I could write a book about. So, brace yourself, parents… we have a lot of ground to cover so this is one of my longer posts. 

10 Tips on How to Handle It When Your Teen is Disrespectful

My best advice is to start out soft and then escalate your reaction based on your teen’s response and behavior. Here is what’s worked for me.

1. Give Them a Second Chance to Get it Right

When my kids were nasty, snarky, or disrespectful to me, I always gave them a second chance to get it right. “Whoa, where did that come from? You know I won’t tolerate you speaking to me like that. You wanna give that another try?” SO often they didn’t even realize their tone of voice or how they were coming across and they self-corrected. “Geez, sorry mom. I guess I’m just tired.” 

Remember too, we’re our kids’ safe zones. They’re “on” all day at school, with friends, with coaches, and with their bosses – they’re going to let their guard down with us and that’s okay…within reason, of course.

2. Listen and Learn

I know… your teen just gave you a deep eye roll and said, “OMG! You’re always so annoying!” when you asked them to walk the dog and I’m suggesting you listen? Well… hear me out on this. Teenagers are little kids in big bodies. They have a ton of growing up to do emotionally. They aren’t good at regulating their emotions and they’re oftentimes downright crummy at conveying their thoughts and feelings.

Rather than respond with a harsh reply, “Listen up! You keep that up and I’ll take your phone away for a week! Just who do you think you’re talking to!?” start with compassion. “Clearly, something’s bugging you because you and I both know I didn’t deserve that response. Why don’t we sit down a minute and talk about what’s really going on?” 

Our kids want to be heard, validated and understood. My experience has taught me that a little compassion goes a long way in diffusing and understanding their emotions. 

3. Dig Deeper

Keep in mind that nearly every teenager will show disrespect toward their parent(s) at some time or another. You’re not a failure if your teen is suddenly the king or queen of cranky comebacks. However, that being said, we can’t “brush it off” as normal teen behavior.

We have to help our kids understand how they’re coming across, help them learn to regulate their emotions, and help them bring their feelings to a conscious level so they can verbalize them instead of “acting them out” (which, by the way, teenagers are notorious for doing). 

With my kids, I always took the time to dig deeper and try to find the root cause. What was triggering their disrespect? Were they struggling in school, with friends, or on the field and they were thrashing out at me because they could? Were they feeling suffocated by my inability to loosen my purse strings now that they’re getting older? Was I allowing them to get away with their disrespect and now they’ve figured out they can get away with it so they’re “upping the ante?” 

Sit down with your teen or take them out to lunch, ask questions, find out what they’re feeling, listen, and show your love and support. Let them know you’re on their side, that you want to help but you simply cannot and will not tolerate their behavior. Respect is a two-way street. You offer them respect and you EXPECT it in return – plain and simple. 

4. Stay Calm and TRY Not to Take It Personally

I can’t emphasize this enough. Nothing good will ever come out of arguing with an immature, underdeveloped brain. And, taking their disrespect as a personal attack will only make matters worse.

You can’t fight fire with fire. If you turn the tables and act disrespectfully to your teen by shaming them, yelling, or calling them names, you’ll simply be training your teen how to be disrespectful in return. 

 Regardless of how escalated the situation becomes or how nasty or disrespectful your teen becomes you have to stay calm and do your best not to take it personally. Walk away, take a walk, or take a drive, but don’t engage in a full-blown argument or debate with your kid. You won’t win. They won’t win. And, you’ll likely damage the relationship which is the one thing you should be seeking to protect. Plus, teenagers are brilliant at knowing which buttons to push. Don’t fall for it! Be the adult in the room no matter what. 

5. Pick Your Battles

You don’t have to respond to every eye roll, every heavy sigh, or every single disrespectful tone or remark. You’re not a pushover if/when you choose to pick your battles – especially if your teen is “generally” a pretty good kid who’s having a bad day

With my kids, I always tried to give them a “free pass” every now and then. We all have bad days, we all get overwhelmed or irritated, and teens, as we know, are dealing with a ton of hormonal shifts that can trigger feelings even they can’t explain. Don’t hold your teen to a higher standard than you’re able to attain yourself. Rather than react to every single act of disrespect, let some go, at times. Sometimes, no reaction is the best reaction of all. 

6. Determine (and Convey to Your Teen) Your Threshold of Intolerance

What fires you up? Is it when your teen slams their bedroom door? Is it when they yell or cuss at you? Is it when they blatantly ignore your requests? (They don’t have to speak a word to show disrespect.)

Whether you make a list in your head or quite literally write them down and hand them to your teen, draw your line in the sand. “Listen. I refuse to live like this any longer. I want to be understanding of your challenges, but I won’t be tolerating your blatant disrespect any longer. Here are the behaviors I won’t tolerate and here’s exactly what will happen if you choose to continue the behavior. The ball is in your court.” 

7. Establish Fair Consequences that HIT HOME

Okay, parents… some of you may not agree with me on this one, but when we’re trying to get through to our teens and nip bad behavior in the bud, we have to hit them where it hurts (so to speak). Take their cell phone away, take away privileges like gaming or their allowance, take away the keys to the car, or don’t allow them to attend a big party they’ve had on their calendar for weeks. 

Just like we handled our kids when they were toddlers and we warned them that we were leaving the park in 15 minutes so they wouldn’t freak out when we said, “Time to go,” we have to give our kids plenty of heads up. “You know that party you’re planning on going to Friday night? You won’t be going if you continue to act this way.” Or, “One more response like that and I’ll shut your cell phone down for a week. You decide.” 

8. Don’t Cave – Nip It In the Bud EVERY Time

Consistency… it’s one of the key factors of parenting that is 100% critical to maintaining control (and respect) of our kids.

We can’t fly off the handle one day for something our teen said or did and then blow off that same behavior another day simply because we’re worn out and don’t have the energy to deal with it. 

Don’t give them an inch (with the big things you’ve determined that you can’t and won’t tolerate). Nip those infractions in the bud every single time. Stand strong. I promise, one day, when your teen is much older and mature, they’ll thank you for standing your ground. 

9. Don’t Adopt the Notion That “My Teen Will Grow Out Of It”

My family pediatrician told me to never convince myself that my teen will eventually grow out of their rude, nasty, disrespectful behavior. He said, “Quite often, rude, nasty, disrespectful teens become rude, nasty, disrespectful adults.” The way we respond to our teen’s behavior will determine and influence whether it will continue or not and how they will carry that behavior into other areas of their lives and their future. 

10. Remember, Your Teen is a Work in Progress

Our teens have a ton of growing up to do physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Inside their bodies, there’s a bunch of construction trucks moving things around and you and I both know construction sites can be messy. Try to have patience and understand that your teen IS trying. They want to please you. They want that connection with you. They crave harmony in the house just as much as you do. 

Another thing to remember is that, sadly, our teens are growing up in a very disrespectful world. Picking up on that disrespect and accepting it as “normal” is easy when you’re dealing with a young, impressionable mind. It’s up to us to teach our kids to be kind and respectful toward us and others,  how to convey their feelings with decency,  how to manage conflict the right way, and be the example they need to model appropriate behavior. They don’t realize it, but our kids are relying on us to teach them.

With enough patience, love, and steadfast expectations of their behavior, you can help your teen learn to treat you and others with respect and maintain a strong, open, loving relationship with them. The goal shouldn’t be to demand your teen’s respect, but rather to earn it, model it, and lovingly teach them to exhibit respect. The more our teens respect us, the more likely they are to follow our lead.

Final Thought…

If you’ve exhausted all efforts to deter your teen from being disrespectful and they’re continuing to treat you or other family members with extreme disrespect or if they’re angry or violent, don’t wait to reach out for help. Start with your family doctor for advice and guidance and/or reach out to a child psychologist for direction, insight, and tips on how to handle it. There could be underlying issues or challenges you’re teen is facing that require medical attention or therapy. 

You can’t force your teen to respect you, but you CAN set high expectations that they treat you respectfully, regardless of how they feel about a situation.

If you enjoyed reading, “Help… My Teenager is So Disrespectful and I’m Worn Out Trying to Handle It,” you might also enjoy reading these posts:

The REAL Reason Your Teen is Sometimes a Bear to Deal With

Help… My Teenager Hates Me and It’s Breaking My Heart

How to Walk on Eggshells Like a Pro: 10 Tips to Stay Chill When Your Teen Isn’t

Raising a Strong-Willed Teen: How to Survive and Help Them Thrive (Without Breaking Their Spirit)

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