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Ask The Expert: Handling Teens Talking Back To Parents

Dear Your Teen:

How can I stop the backtalk! My son, who is weeks away from 13 years old, ALWAYS has something to say. I will respond to him once, possibly twice, and then stop. But he refuses to stop. He blows things out of proportion, lies, and seems willing to say anything just to get under my skin. How can I stop the backtalk?


Let me first say that you are not alone. This is a common struggle in many families.

Why Teens are Disrespectful

Your child is a growing 13 year old—growing in emotions, hormones, stature, feelings, awareness, cognition, and more. As much as you may not recognize the sweet boy who’s “Hulk-ing out,” he too is coming into his own. He is trying to recognize himself. He is also trying to figure out where he fits in the family. He’s learning what new “powers” come with becoming a teenager and how to understand the world around him.

[adrotate banner=”59″] Teens have the wherewithal to “try things out” with the people that love them the most. This includes annoying behaviors, as well as the way they deal with feelings, especially those related to frustration and anger. For your son, “backtalk’” is a form of expressing feelings and thoughts, but it’s certainly not a well thought out way of communicating. More likely, it’s impulsive. If he would think twice, he would probably not say such hurtful things. Backtalk is something that your son can choose to stop. Unfortunately, it is not something you as his mother can stop.

Why do people push buttons? Because it’s easy. The greater or quicker the response to the button pushing, the more frequently you can expect some people to push those buttons. This unfortunately includes our children. It was probably cute when your child flashed a grin, talked sweetly, or turned on the crocodile tears to get what he wanted when he was younger. But it’s not so cute when our teenagers get mean, make threats, or try to wear us down into saying “yes.”

What to Do

Backtalk is something you as an adult do not have to respond or react to. You need to continue to try not to react because that is how you will eventually dissuade your teen making these choices. Establish a firm boundary regarding how you would like to be talked to, and only respond when he chooses to engage with you in a mature and calm manner. This is how you can decrease the backtalk.

Remember, the teen years are a crash course in how to be adult, so you want to preemptively have conversations regarding how to appropriately express or cope with anger, frustrations, disappointments, sadness, etc. Additionally you will want to set boundaries for how you will respond to the various tones that your teen may use. Stick with those responses and remind your child that it is his choice to communicate in a way that may get a response in his favor.

Talk about this when things are calm. In the heat of the moment, it’s difficult for any adult or teen to use their listening ears—or begin to use their logical mind to reason and understand.

John Lee, MSW, LCSW, is an individual and family therapist, specializing in improving the emotional well-being of children and adolescents in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

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