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How to Stop "Back-Talk" in Disagreeable Teens

“Initially, my husband and I were concerned that our son, Robby, who is 13, did not fit the ‘profile’ of an out-of-control teen. We were motivated to seek outside help and guidance due to the negative attitude we felt we were experiencing with him. This was primarily a ‘talking back’ issue where Robby would continually talk back to us, mutter under his breath, and be purposely rude and disagreeable. Additionally we saw problems of him thinking that he was smarter than everyone else. Any tips for dealing with back talk?”

With a little understanding and self-restraint, moms and dads can put a lid on talking back. The reasons for back talk are as varied as the personalities of the kids who use it. The youngster could be hungry, tired, or in a transitional period. But kids who talk back usually do have one thing in common: They're trying to separate from their parents and exercise control over their lives.

Behavior Tracking—

Moms and dads need to do some behavior tracking: For 3 days, make notes about what your son says, what the situation was, and how you responded. See if you notice any patterns. And keep in mind that when young people talk back, something else is going on underneath. The goal is to help them express it constructively.

You won't ever be able to avoid disagreements with your son, but you can learn how to fight fair:
  1. Define what the problem is
  2. Define how to rectify it 
  3. Don't attack, belittle, or condemn (unless you want some back talk)
  4. Figure out what can be done to prevent it in the future

13-year-olds are notorious for putting moms and dads on the defensive (after all, they are officially a teenager at that point, with an attitude to match). For example, say your son borrowed a ring that had sentimental value, and then he lost it. You might yell, "How could you be so damn irresponsible!" Look out though – he will most likely turn your reaction around on you (e.g., "Oh, so you've never lost anything before? Excuse me for not being perfect!"). Instead of attacking, try talking in concrete terms, such as, "When you _____ (insert the behavior he exhibited), I felt _____ (insert how you felt about his behavior)." 

As strange as it may seem, be sure to use the same restraint and respect you would show a guest in your home. The goal is for you to express your feelings ABOUT his behavior rather than accusing him of “misbehaving.” This lessens the likelihood that he will feel attacked, which in turn lessens the likelihood that you will be on the receiving end of back talk.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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