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Dealing with Disrespect: 15 Tips for Parents

If you have a disrespectful teenager, don’t give up! Below are some highly effective techniques you can start implementing that will greatly diminish disrespectful behavior. While not all of these strategies will work in every situation or with every teenager, most parents who have practiced the following techniques report significant improvements in their child’s general attitude and behavior:

1. As much as this sounds like bribery, adolescents will react positively when they realize there is something in it for them. That doesn't mean for every good report card or every goal scored they should get money or gifts. But maybe after maintaining consistent good grades or following house rules, lighten their chore load or give them a later curfew. It's these things that matter the most to an adolescent after all, while giving them a little leeway here and there will show them that you recognize their efforts and hard work.

2. Generally, moms and dads should ignore the mildly disrespectful things that their children do (e.g., eye rolling, stomping up the stairs, muttering about how life isn’t fair, sighing dramatically, slamming their bedroom door, etc.). 

3. If an adolescent breaks the rules at home or at school, the initial reaction of a mother/father will be to punish them in some way. Although he or she should not get off scot-free, it's essential to try and create a rational punishment that both mother/father and youngster can agree on, or at least a punishment that moms and dads know they can control. For example, your adolescent may break curfew or get poor grades. Saying that they're grounded for a month (or longer) is not going to work. Why? One of the most important aspects of an adolescent's life is being part of the social scene; going out with their friends and not feeling like they've missed anything. So no matter how strict you are, your young person will find a way to sneak out and go where they please. Of course if they get caught, this will most likely lead to more fighting and stricter rules, which will probably be broken again, and the cycle goes on. Want a more modern punishment that will really work? Take away their cell phone.

4. Be willing to follow through. You cannot just threaten to take away your disrespectful adolescent’s cell phone; if the behavior continues, you actually have to do it. No, you do not have to wrestle the phone out of your adolescent’s hand. Simply call the company and suspend the service. You will make your point, and in most cases, your disrespectful adolescent will choose respect over lack of privilege.

5. It is a mother/father's first instinct to worry when their son or daughter doesn't answer the phone, doesn't call that often, or isn't home all the time. While it's perfectly normal to worry, you should also remember that your adolescent is a person to, with a life of their own. Because it's never a good thing to be known as the "crazy" mom or dad who calls everyone in their phone book at 4 AM looking for their son/daughter, it's a good idea to set up some basic rules to avoid this situation. For instance, before your adolescent goes out, ask them where they're going and when they plan on being home. Make it understood that if their plans change, i.e., they plan on sleeping over a friend's house or staying out later, they simply must call to let you know. If you need to tell your son/daughter something and have a cell phone, text them instead of calling. If your adolescent is at a party or out with friends, they aren't going to want to openly answer their phone to a bugging mother/father with a million questions. Texts are more private and to the point. If there is an emergency at home, then call them. Try and make this routine so both mother/father and youngster will agree to have some communication, without the mother/father being overbearing.

6. Moms and dads may shudder at the thought of their son/daughter having sex, using drugs, failing school, an even being unpopular. But these days, such issues cannot be avoided. While perhaps the hardest part of being an adolescent lies in making decisions that will change them for better or worse, moms and dads should know that they can have a positive influence on their youngster if they approach the issues correctly. For example, instead of saying "don't have sex" or "drugs are bad," tell them what could happen to them if they do have unprotected sex or abuse drugs. I guarantee a picture of an STD or (for girls) the thought of having a baby will make them think more than a command will. If you know your adolescent is sexually active, ask them if they're using condoms and even sneak some into their purse or wallet if you can. This may seem a stretch for some moms and dads, while others may feel it equates to giving their adolescent permission to have sex. But, if your adolescent isn't having sex now, he/she will be one day, and it is better to take this approach instead of pretending sex doesn't exist. In addition, for all of those old-fashioned moms and dads out there, you should know that the good old fashion "sex talk" doesn't work. Taking the "safe sex" route is always more effective than "no sex" because it shows your children you are aware of what they're going through, making you one less adult in their life that doesn't understand.

7. No matter how much you want to know where your son/daughter is and who they're with every second of the day, you simply can't. In the same manner, you can't expect your son/daughter to be open with you about everything going on in their life. As harmless as it may seem to an adult to invade their adolescent's privacy every now and then, to an adolescent it is a line that should not be crossed. No matter what good intentions a mother/father may have, once they cross this line they will notice their son/daughter is less and less open about even the simple things, like how they did on a test or how soccer practice went. You can't expect an adolescent to be open with you if you go out of your way to be sneaky or nosy in their personal life. If you want to win their trust, sometimes it's the little things that count, such as knocking before you enter their room or not interrupting them if they're on the phone. Remember, everyone needs their space.

8. Often, as moms and dads, you might feel as though you are obligated to remain engaged with your adolescent no matter what. Whether you feel you have to have the last word or you have to keep pushing until your adolescent acknowledges your point, you may be suffering through more disrespectful behavior than you need to. If you are having a conversation (argument) with your adolescent and frustrated about the way the conversation is going, or if you do not want to allow the conversation to escalate into an argument, then you have to learn that it is ok to walk away. If your disrespectful adolescent is attempting to engage you in an argument or trying to get his or her way on something, firmly and quietly repeat your decision, then let them know you will not continue the conversation, and walk away. Even if you have to leave the room, lock yourself in your bedroom, and jog in place to burn off the frustration, it is better than continuing to engage your adolescent on that level.

9. One of the main reasons kids and adolescents are disrespectful is because they have been indulged and spoilt, not taught how to disagree in an assertive manner. Disrespect is rife in homes where moms and dads have been permissive in bringing up their kids and where there are few firm rules set for appropriate behavior. It is easy for the youngster to push the boundaries and behave in a disrespectful way because they know no different and believe that kind of behavior would be appropriate and accepted. In these permissive homes, the adolescents are often confused by the inconsistency in their treatment and bad behavior is their way of rebelling against this. The best tips here are to be firm but fair with the youngster from as early as possible in their life, to be consistent but flexible with rules and to ensure that the boundaries for good behavior are kept in place, and with some discretion. Every step along the way, make sure that adolescents are taught appropriate ways of asking for what they desire, disagreeing with decisions made and being able to deal with rejection. Those coping skills will then become routine in their behavior and help to make them more confident, especially in the more competitive adult world.

10. Remember that adolescents have their own world of problems. To them minuscule drama is equated to grown-ups not being able to pay the bills. They are not concerned with real life problems yet. However, on the same note realize they do have to deal with serious issues that grown-ups easily may have forgotten about, from self-esteem to sex to drugs. Just remember to be there for them without being judgmental.

11. Respect, disrespect and compliance are often issues that become entangled between moms and dads and children. Moms and dads have a right to expect compliance from all the kids who are living in their house, even if that youngster is 22 years old. Often, the friction is caused by a child’s legitimate need to become more independent as he develops. This is precisely where moms and dads and adolescents come into conflict: the mother/father wants compliance and the child wants independence. Now let’s take it one step further: When the child doesn’t comply, the mother/father feels disrespected—and they make the mistake of personalizing that feeling. I think that adolescents have to learn to solve the problem of compliance in healthy ways. But moms and dads also need to understand that many times, their youngster’s small acts of rebelliousness come from the fact that they want to be independent—it has nothing to do with disrespect.

12. Some moms and dads easily mistake their youngster's ranting and raving as a direct attack upon them as authority figures. However, for some adolescents, venting is their way of talking and being open without feeling vulnerable. Most adolescents don't feel comfortable opening up to moms and dads about personal issues and some never will. Instead of trying to force them to open up or asking mundane questions like "How was your day," try and direct your questions towards their needs. For example, if their complaining about how hard their math homework is, offer to help them with it. If they are yelling about how their life sucks and there's never anything to do, offer to drive them and their friends to the movies or the mall. In essence, kill them with kindness.

13. Sometimes adolescents are disrespectful toward moms and dads because they are emotionally hurting and in pain. Many kids hurt for lots of reasons that their moms and dads are not even aware of. Often the moms and dads get the stick simply for being there, because there is no one else to blame. The youngster could be bullied, or being abused in some way, or has fallen out with peers, and disrespect to a mother/father makes up for the lack of support and good feeling the adolescent may perceive are missing. The best way to deal with this aspect is to talk to them often about their day, show concern for their life and activities without being intrusive. Wait until they are ready to open up. Be sensitive to when they might be unusually quiet or pre-occupied and be there for them when you sense they need your comfort.

14. You owe your adolescent a roof over his/her head, food to eat, and your love. Everything else (cell phones, video games, internet access, cable, free time with friends, money for the dance on Friday night, dating, a car, etc) are all EXTRAs. It might not seem like that sometimes, but if you start recognizing that each of the items your adolescent holds dear is most likely a want and not a necessity, then you can offer your disrespectful adolescent a choice. If your adolescent chooses to treat you and the other members of your family with respect and follow the house rules, then there will be privileges to have. If your adolescent chooses to behave disrespectfully, that behavior is a demonstration of a lack of maturity and privileges can be denied or removed from the adolescent’s life.

15. You would think that the golden rule would be ingrained in the minds of grown-ups from a young age, however it's surprising to see how many moms and dads call their children disrespectful and then react the same way themselves. For example, if your young person screams and yells at you rudely, do you yell back? Do you shut them down with "you're grounded" and slam the door? It's important to remember that communication is critical in any relationship and of course, the relationship with your adolescent son/daughter is going to be one of the hardest you'll have to maintain. Try to respect them no matter how out of line they may be, and try to stay as calm and rational as possible. If anything, this will get them to eventually calm down and convince them that you're actually listening to what they're saying and not just yelling back commands.

==> Help for Parents with Disrespectful Children and Teens


Anonymous said...

Hello again,

We are make some progress with our daughter. We are into week three of your program, but we are experience the following. Whenever I deliver a consequence to our daughter when she has done something such as skipping school I say “You have made a choice and in making that choice you have also chosen to have a consequence. She gets angry and says “You know I’m really trying, I only skipped school today because I thought there were no afternoon classes because of sports day. I’m really trying to change, but you haven’t changed at all you’re still always threatening me. I explain (calmly) that I am not threatening, I am merely telling her she has choices, if she makes a bad choice, she has also made the choice to receive a negative consequence and that she’s in control of this. Am I on the right track here? It’s just that in the past I did used to threaten a lot… i.e. if you don’t get up and come down for you breakfast right now there’ll be no computer tonight—which of course I often didn’t follow through on. Just trying to give you some context as to why she still thinks I’m in threat mode.


Mark said...

Re: Am I on the right track here?

Yes. Make sure your explanations (i.e., "I explain (calmly) that I am not threatening...") to one sentence only -- because that moment is fertile ground for an argument.


Anonymous said...

I came across your site after a particularly bad few days with my son. He is twelve years old, but looks and behaves like a much older teenager. Anger has always been a problem for him, which I have never managed to help him handle despite several attempts with counsellors, books, etc. Now things have escalated to the point where he is persistently abusive to me, in language and now through physical aggression. He has begun hitting and pushing me, which is frightening as I am on my own with him and he is stonger than me now. I have threatened to phone the police, but really don't want to resort to this in fact. I leave the house when things get bad.

Our relationship has deteriorated to the point where my son doesn't even CONSIDER doing anything he is told to. He is a law unto himself; doesn't do a thing to help; and, as it is the summer holidays, just sits on the sofa into the early hours playing video games. If I try to take the console away from him, this is when his aggression is at it's worst. I have got into a pattern over many years of punishing bad behaviour by taking away the computer and games consoles, but I think this has become counterproductive as it just makes him feel more angry and hard-done-by. But I don't know what else to do. He doesn't take any responsibility for his own behaviour, blaming others and even totally denying abusive language and actions. I find this particularly difficult to understand as I honestly believe that I brought my son up with strong boundaries and a consistent approach to discipline. It's as if he just doesn't integrate the same boundaries
and sense of respect that other children do.

Recently the school have identified that my son is dyspraxic, which has helped me to understand some of his difficulties with learning and social interaction. I am very concerned that he is becoming disillusioned with education and his ability to keep up. He seems to be disengaging, and will rarely meet expectations regarding school and homework. He is a bright boy, with a wonderful sense of humour and naturally very kind and loving. His friends' parents always comment on how polite and well-behaved he is when at their houses. So I feel that it is my relationship with my son at home that I need to start with...but, as you say you frequently hear, I feel like I have tried everything!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,
I could have written your post about your 12 year old son regarding my 12 year old daughter. So many similarities. I'm also overwhelmed and frustrated so I would love to hear what Mark has to say. But what I do know is that you can't allow him to get physical with you. You must call the police and he needs to deal with the consequences of those actions. It is his only hope of learning not to hurt you which down the road will keep him from hurting other people in his life. Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

Dear both,
my son is also 12 years old and 2 months ago he started with pushing me or hitting me with his legs. This occurs mainly when he needs to start doing his homework. When he is doing so, he is usually singing or telling some phrases from stupid cartoons.
This episodes lasts for 1-2 hours, he doesn't want to give up, his hair is completely wet and he is so very tired after all. Sometimes I go out of the house, sometimes I am trying to calm him down by holding his arms.
I was told by child psychiatrist to deal with such behavior and call the ambulance to drive him to the child psychiatric hospital, but I simply can not do this because I am so afraid that this might be a trigger for even worse behavior or for some real psychiatric illness.
Calling the police seems the same to me. Is there really no other option? Maybe my husband could try to be more rigid to him? He only keep telling him to stop with such behavior, but the child just keep on with his defiant behavior doing the worst things that comes up to his mind.

Thanks for your ideas!

Teresa Lowther Mason said...


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Unknown said...

What do I do with a teen girl who won't listen and lies all the time I don't know what to do I work a full time job raising 4 girls on my own she is 14 and showing her younger siblings its OK to disobey what can I do please help

Gemmy99 said...

What do you do about these kids that are abusive and/or disrespectful? We are dealing with these issues with our 14 year old son. He has always been challenging and is natural boundary tester. The past 2 years have been pretty awful with him.Are we better off ignoring some of these behaviors..seems like the more we try the worse it gets. Good to know we're not alone though.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend I am staying with and she is dealing with a 16 soon to be 17 year old son and her sons step-dad who is estranged from their household and has taught her son how to disrespect her by being a poor role model...she's constantly having to ask her son to do things for her as in chores which her son takes as nagging and he talks back to her like he witnessed his step-dad talk back to her...she is extremely frustrated and wishes and hopes he would stop...her son is failing every subject and came from an abusive relationship with his biological father which she had to go and get her son.. so I am wondering is his behavior normal by lashing out back at his mother who kind of feels she has to threaten him verbally into doing ANY chores.......please give me pointers to relay to her

roxy627 said...

hello, I have just come across your page and I feel that my 15 year old will not care about any rules. I have recently found alcohol in her room and when I tried to discuss it with her, telling her that she is a minor and its illegal for her to drink and she knows my feeling about underage drinking, the response I got back was ï paid for it it's mine". I ended up giving her a choice, hand over the alcohol or you can leave, she chose to leave. never would I thought she would leave like that. I have no idea what to do. she feels she can just get up and leave whenever she has made a bad choice. she wont talk and discuss things and when she does she never sicks to the issue and jumps for issue to issue and nothing gets sorted. how do I talk to a child who I feel think she gets everything her way because I'm so worried about upsetting her and her leaving all the time. what am I ment to do?

LGD said...

My deep and grateful thanks to you for this Website. My son is highly gifted and now 17. I am exhausted and sometimes in desperation. I am experienced in dealing with children with a wide variety of issues and am often the port of call for the teenagers of friends. I have been the sole parent in dealing with my son's complex problems (social anxiety) since my husband basically disappears or ignores anything that happens, where a boundary needs to be held, or when a discussion becomes heated. I love my son dearly, but I don't know how I am going to find the strength to carry on. Like any parent, I have made some mistakes along the way, I have spoken to both my sons and apologised for anything I may have done that has hurt them. I have also opened the possibility for them to talk about anything. My son however, is incredibly critical and I cannot repel the pain I feel when he says the things he says. I know I shouldn't take it personally but I do. Of Course in doing so, I am actually handing him power he shouldn't have. I feel so worn down. I have given everything I have. Your advice has helped me a little today, and for this I am very grateful!!

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