What to Do When Your Teen Is Disrespectful

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Anyone who has ever had a teenager has probably experienced painful disrespect. Sometimes their disrespectful actions become chronic and almost unbearable. What should a parent do when a teen is insolent?

Set Teens Up for Success

Teenagers need several things. They need people who care about them and support them. They need to have an arena in which they feel successful. They need increasing freedom to make decisions and explore friendships. They also need limits.

Teens may often be prickly and argumentative, not showing that they want to be cared about. But they do. You can show that you care by taking interest in their lives, friends, and activities. You can be patient with their struggle to move into adulthood. A willingness to listen respectfully to their ideas, even when they are outlandish, is a powerful way of showing love.

Teens also need an arena in which they can be learning and experiencing success. They may get this from athletics, art, reading, friendships, drama, or a variety of other activities. Adults can help teens by supporting their efforts in an area of the teen's interest.

The hardest thing to provide teens may be that artful guidance that provides them limits but also encourages reasonable independence. A wise parent discusses with teens, movie choices, quality of friendships, and expectations for dates. Successful involvement is to make it more like wise helping than dogmatic controlling.

Understand Their Point of View

Listening and understanding are effective ways of building a relationship. It is tempting to analyze or correct teens' bold and sometimes inaccurate statements. It is generally wiser to be understanding. For example, if a teen complains that they hate algebra, the instinctive reaction is to say, "Algebra is easy. I did it. You can do it." Such a response will probably make them feel inadequate and angry. On the other hand, we can respond to their complaint with "Algebra can be overwhelming, learning all those symbols and rules. It can be very confusing." When we show understanding it helps teen's feel valued. It ultimately helps them better solve their own problems.

Pick Battles Very Carefully

Some battles are not worth fighting. Highlighted hair, multiple earrings, or a wild shirt may be an expression of a teen's individuality. We are unwise to attack such things. However, there may are many times when it is wise to discuss teen's decisions with them: If your teenage daughter decides to pierce her tongue, you might say, "A tongue ring may seem very exciting to you. Other people might see it very differently. A doctor will see it as unhealthy. Many adults will see it as weird and inconvenient. What does it mean to you?" Sometimes just asking the right questions can help teens find their own answers.

Sometimes parents should take a strong stand. If you're concerned that your teen is drinking and driving, you could say, "When you or your friends have been drinking, I ask that you not drive. Call me for a ride or get a cab. Do not drive. You are too important to me to be hurt as a result of drunk driving."


Parents often get stuck in a battle of wills with their teens. Everyone loses in such a battle. As parents, we help our children get what they want-BUT in a way we feel good about and when those wants are beneficial. Teens want fun and friends. There may be times, especially in early teen years when we will invite them to have a party at home rather than go to an activity that may be unsafe. Keeping a win-win attitude is the basis of real problem solving.

Part of the difficulty of being a teen is the discovery that parents are not perfect. That realization can actually be turned in to an asset when teens see you as humble, still learning, and willing to find better ways to be a parent. Invite their suggestions. Discuss possibilities with them. Above all, show them that they are important to you.

Credits: Franklin Covey

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