Written by: Cally Worden
Teens can be testy, we all know that. Adolescence is a tough time, so cut them a bit of slack. There comes a point when general teenage grumpiness crosses that line and mutates into behaviour that is rude and unacceptable. So what’s the best way to deal with it when your teen becomes insulting?
Give your Teen some Space
Sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it? But teens hate to be micro-managed, getting heavy with trying to fix the insult issue is not going to help. Experts suggest instead, when your teen is obviously not in a happy place you make a gently enquiry to ask if they are okay. If the response you receive is glare, grunt, hiss, or an eye-roll, … back off. Walk away, even though every fibre of your being wants to stay and have this out.
Confrontation will not help your teen at this point. They are at that stage in life where they need now, more than ever before, to learn to self-soothe. Mum or Dad won’t always be there to step in and wrap them in an emotional blanket. At a subconscious level your teen knows this, they are busy working out how to go it alone. Like any new skill, this takes time.
Let the situation cool down
If you feel you must intervene then try to wait a while until your teen is more receptive. An adult conversation about the need to be polite when you’re in a bad place will sow the seed of an idea; this will hopefully germinate over time into a more positive reaction.
A harsh and punitive response from you, perhaps involving withdrawal of privileges, will only serve to show your teen that you don’t really get them at all. Not a great place from which to try and help them. It’s okay to let them know you think their behaviour is off, and why. But give them an alternative too, this teaches them to recognise, appreciate and value the concern of others, even if they choose not to accept the help on offer at that point.
Teens are trying to find their own unique place in the world. Feeling like they have a voice, that their concerns are being heard helps them to feel a sense of belonging. In responding angrily to rude behaviour you are effectively ignoring their issues. Try saying something like ‘I feel really upset when you talk that way. It’s rude and disrespectful. But I can see you’re behaving that way because you’re hurting right now. What’s on your mind?’
In this way you are simultaneously showing your teen how to express their feelings in an acceptable way, also acknowledging their need and desire to be heard. Teenâ€™s come out with some ridiculous ideas on the rights and wrongs of life sometimes, we’ve all been there! Take time to hear them out and encourage them to question and challenge their own beliefs, in their own way.
Once your teen feels valued, with an active voice among the family, you will generally find that the surliness diminishes and your teen becomes more cooperative.
Present the Idea of Logical Consequences
You will never be able to force your teen to get a job, do their homework, or partake in household chores. To try is to invite conflict and that’s a pain in the butt for all concerned. So try instead to instil an acceptance of the law of logical, natural consequences within your home. As an adult you have learned that if you don’ t show up for work you lose your job and don’t get paid. Not only does this impact on your ability to pay the bills, it denies you of the little luxuries in life.
As a parent you have a responsibility to provide your child (teen or not) with the essentials of life – food, shelter, water, clothing, and also, unconditional love. Beyond these are the luxuries – the games console, the borrowed car, the lift to a friend’s house. The logical and natural consequence of unacceptable behaviour from your teen can be that they lose out on these extras they may take for granted. Not in a punitive way, but in a ‘This is how life works’ kind of way.
You don’t tidy your clothes away – they don’t get washed, you have nothing to wear. You don’t complete your homework – you don’t get to play games all night.
As a parent you’re not being petty by using the law of natural consequence – you are introducing your teen to the realities of how life works. It is one of the most important exercises you will undertake as a parent in preparing your teen for adulthood. So when their behaviour gets challenging, don’t give up on your teen. Step back a little, show them the way, then let them grow while learning from you. They will appreciate your wisdom one day.