Inside: We give frustrated parents some advice for handling an angry, defiant child (or a disrespectful teenager) without yelling.
Helpful Tips On How To Deal With A Disrespectful Teenager
Growing up is hard work, and as children get older, parents must slowly release the reins and give their kids more space and freedom to develop into adults.
Easier said than done, right?
Our main goal as parents is to provide the tools, love, and support our children need to move from one developmental stage to the next. At each juncture, kids are learning how to make decisions, how to prioritize, how to connect, and how to navigate life’s ups and downs.
So you’ve moved out of the tween stage but you’re into the teen years.
As teenagers, our children are right smack in the middle of an intense period of development. Their lives change dramatically during their teenage years, and so does their relationship with the adults in their lives.
Sometimes, this includes teens throwing a lot more than shade at their parents.
Signs of a Disrespectful Teenager
If your teen is:
- Back talking
- Insulting you
- Breaking rules
- Responding to situations with annoyance or anger
… then you may feel like your teen doesn’t respect you.
While these can be signs of disrespect, do your best not to take these behaviors personally, because this can lead to flaring tempers and an exacerbated situation.
My Child is Defiant and Disrespectful. What do I do?
A certain amount of conflict between teens and parents is common, and a little bit of it can even be healthy.
How do our teens learn how to deal effectively with conflict?
Maybe, they are in need of a mental health day. But, often, the best way is to work through conflict in a safe space like their home with people like their parents who love them unconditionally.
As young people explore what it looks like to have more control of their own lives, there will be a natural push and pull as your family settles on where the boundaries will be. However, just because the conflict between teens and parents is common doesn’t mean defiant, disrespectful, or angry behavior from your teen is acceptable, especially if that behavior is constant and/or over-the-top.
These behaviors—even when they’re within the realm of what’s “normal” for a certain stage of development—can be infuriating. We’re only human, after all!
But as parents, it is in our best interest to handle disrespectful teenagers in a consistent, calm way.
How to Deal With an Angry, Disrespectful Child so you Don’t Make it Worse
While no one is going to do it right 100% of the time (don’t even set that impossible bar for yourself!), if we continuously “lose it” with our teens, it’ll just make the situation worse for everyone.
So, here are some tips for frustrated parents when your disrespectful teenager is acting defiant and rude, and you’re wondering: What do I do?
1) Accept All Feelings
This advice might sound familiar from back in the day when you had a toddler! The absolute best way to navigate big feelings from children of any age (honestly, this works with adults, too) is to accept those feelings and help them deal with their emotions.
This does not simply mean acknowledging the feelings and then trying to convince the child out of feeling that way (ex: You’re angry, but…).
Really try to refrain from saying “but” anything after acknowledging a feeling, because that signals to the person you’re talking to that you don’t really think they should feel how they feel.
No one likes that.
It’s worth pointing out here that most people are not very comfortable with feelings of anger, frustration, or sadness. We’d prefer to try to “fix” the emotion, make it go away as quickly as possible, and we don’t like to sit with it and really feel it.
When it’s coming from your disrespectful teenager, anger directed at you can feel extremely personal, which can trigger defensiveness.
Emotion identification and expression tools help kids dive deep into their inner-world and explore what they’re feeling.
But remember, these are the moments your teen is watching you most closely. How you handle your own parenting behavior (such as anger and frustration) will become a guidepost for your teenager in the future, which leads to our next tip: Modeling appropriate behavior.
2) Model How You Want Your Teen to Behave
“Do as I say and not as I do” is not a good mantra here. You can tell your teen not to overreact all day long, but if they’ve watched you overreact for 10+ years, guess what they’ve learned (and from whom)?
Alternatively, you could accept the feelings without letting them rile you up. It is possible to accept feelings without accepting the behavior. You must make this clear by communicating it to your teen.
For instance, you could say: “I see that you’re upset, and I understand why. I can’t let you scream at me or anyone else like that.”
It can be very helpful when dealing with disrespectful behavior to remain as calm as possible (even if every ounce of you wants to scream back). If you respond to anger and lashing out with anger and lashing out, you’re essentially reinforcing your teen’s instinct to do these things when they experience feelings like anger and frustration.
While perfect modeling is a nice goal, in real life, we’re bound to handle things in a less-than-ideal way sometimes. When this happens, model how you’d like your teen to handle the same situation: by apologizing for your hurtful words and behaviors once you’ve calmed down and had time to reflect.
3) Establish Clear Rules & Boundaries (and let teens help create them)
One tip for avoiding conflicts in the first place is to have crystal-clear rules and boundaries. Teenagers, kind of like toddlers, are going to push the boundaries, and this is a normal part of this stage of development.
Teens often crave freedom, and they don’t want to feel like they’re living under your thumb. It’s hard for these young people to understand why their parents’ rules exist, often because they don’t yet have the life experiences that would make it clear to them why and how your rules keep them safe.
Parents can involve teens in creating rules and boundaries to make the process more collaborative and fair. Ask your teens for their input and honestly listen. Give where you can give, and hold the line where you need to hold the line.
Don’t leave your teen hanging on those rules where you can’t compromise. Explain why you can’t be flexible on one rule or boundary and aim to be flexible in other areas instead.
Also, rules and boundaries shouldn’t be set in stone. Revisit them every so often as a family and make adjustments as needed!
4) Don’t Try to Fight Every Battle
Every snide comment from your disrespectful teenager shouldn’t spiral into World War III. One of your best strategies for handling angry, defiant, and/or disrespectful teens is to avoid nit-picking and pick the battles that matter most.
Where you draw the line on what you let go and what you go to battle over is your personal choice. Maybe you can ignore eye rolls and exaggerated sighs, but you draw the line at rude or cruel words directed at you or another family member.
The lower-level offenses are those that might be annoying but aren’t damaging. In these cases, a solid strategy is to avoid giving those behaviors any weight.
For instance, when you make it seem like an eye roll ruins your day, you’re probably setting yourself up for a bunch of extra eye rolls. If you ignore the eye rolls, you may find your teen does it less.
If not, pretending it doesn’t bother you may actually lead to it bothering you less. (Fake it ‘til you make it!)
5) Prioritize Connection and Positive Reinforcement Over Punishment
Punishing undesirable behaviors might work in the short term, but in the long run, you may be digging yourself into a deeper hole as a parent. After all, our real goal as parents is for our kids to follow the rules and be decent human beings because they want to do so, not because they’re afraid of being punished, right?
Consequences, on the other hand, are a part of life.
Parent-enforced consequences for disrespect or rude behavior could include canceling plans (“I can see you’re having a hard time being around other people right now, so we’ll stay home instead of x, y, or z.”) or putting a pause on privileges like borrowing the car or playing video games on school nights.
The key is to try to make enforced consequences as immediate and natural as possible. For instance, if your disrespectful teenager slams the door and breaks it, instead of punishing her by telling her she can’t go to the concert with her friends next month, a more effective and appropriate consequence would be letting the door stay broken until she’s willing to help fix it (maybe even using some of her own money to do so).
Everything I am Doing is Not Working. Any Advice?
If you’re stuck in a cycle of punishment, try to make the shift to enforcing more natural consequences or simply letting natural consequences happen on their own. You should also consider a more preventative approach that prioritizes connection and positive reinforcement.
To do this, first think about the best way to connect with your teen and make an effort to do so, preferably not when things are tense but when things are relaxed.
You know your teen best! Show interest in what they’re interested in. Spend time doing what they like. Ease in with a question or two about life at school or how they feel about life at home.
Show your own vulnerability, and make sure your teen knows you love and cherish them. Show them with your actions (not just your words) that you support them and believe they are capable.
Building this solid foundation during times of peace can be an effective way of helping your disrespectful teenager handle emotions like anger and frustration in a healthier way, preferably a way that doesn’t involve defiance.
If you can’t find behaviors to positively reinforce or any moments for genuine connection, then consider family therapy. There could be an underlying reason for chronic defiant, angry, or destructive behavior from your teen, and there is absolutely no shame in seeking help for yourself and your child.
You got this!