Question: How do you deal with a disrespectful teenager? He’s only disrespectful to me, his mom, the one who does everything for him.
Answer: While this behavior is certainly unpleasant, it is also very common. Neither you nor your son is alone in struggling with parent-child interactions; thankfully that means you can benefit from the experience of others. Here’s one important thing to focus on: What is your reaction when your teenager lashes out or is disrespectful? Your response to his current behavior will affect how he will act down the road. Here are some tips to help you improve the way you respond to a disrespectful teenager, which in turn will help your relationship:
Tips for Dealing with a Disrespectful Teenager
1. STAY CALM. When your teenager is loud, angry, and disrespectful, try not to lose your cool. Try not to respond loudly and negatively. When you respond in a loud and angry manner, your teenager will not hear anything that you are saying. And your anger will not lead to any change in his behavior. Instead, you will only make him more aggressive and defiant. Try to stay calm and in control of your own emotions; you will have a better chance of passing that behavior on to your son.
2. PRAISE POSITIVE BEHAVIOR. When your son is calm, be sure to call attention to how well he’s doing and that you noticed that he is able to stay calm while also being upset. If your son does have a loud tantrum, praise him when he calms down.
3. HELP YOUR TEENAGER PRACTICE PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS. The best time to address your son’s disrespectful behavior is when he is not upset. Help him learn how to communicate his feelings and how to come up with solutions to conflicts before they escalate. In this way, you reduce opportunities for disrespectful behavior.
4. THINK ABOUT REWARDS AND CONSEQUENCES. Positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior — like getting points towards a gift — is much more effective than punishment. When he engages in positive behavior using positive language, you can provide a reward or privilege to show your approval of his behavior. Once your communication improves, there’s a chance you will see a change in your teenager’s behavior as well.
Dr. Mandi Silverman, PsyD, MBA, is a clinical and school psychologist at the Child Mind Institute.