Disrespectful Teenagers: 10 Ways Black Parents Can Respond to Disrespectful TeenagersAuthor: Gregory Harden
Disrespectful teenagers are a parent's worst nightmare.
Over a decade ago, I had the pleasure of being an assistant teacher at a nonpublic school. Every students were what you call ‘at-risk students.' They not only had learning problems, but major chronic behavior problems. Basically, these students' behavior problems were so bad, they couldn't be taught in regular public schools.
In the beginning, it was tough. I wasn't used to being cursed out, yelled at, and called all kinds of terrible names, especially by kids. The disrespect ticked me off. It hurt.
Honestly, I didn't think I would last one week. But, I stuck it out and I'm glad I did. I learned so much about troubled youth and how to deal with them. What I learned made it all worth it (even though the pay sucked).
Perhaps you have a disrespectful teenager living under your roof. I'm not talking about eye-rolling or foot-stomping kind of disrespect. I'm talking about the curse-you-out, tell-you-where-to-go-and-how-to-get-there kind of disrespect. The kind of disrespect that makes you want to lose you cool and kick them where the sun don't shine (but PLEASE don't do that).
Perhaps the disrespect has been going on for a while now. You're tired of the verbal abuse. You want it to stop…like yesterday! You know you shouldn't have to (nor do you) put up with disrespect. You're just not sure what to do to get your teen to stop disrespecting you. Dealing with disrespectful teenagers must be handled correctly. Otherwise, you risk your teenager becoming even more disrespectful or making a bad situation worse.
In this article, I show you effective ways to respond to disrespect so that your teen will begin showing you the respect you deserve.
Disrespectful Teenagers – Avoid Taking It Personally
It's hard not to take things personally when your teen's verbally abusing you. I've taken things personally more times than I'd like. It happens.
When you take it personally, you wind up doing or saying something you'll regret. You may yell, criticize, demand, accuse, blame, or curse at your teenager. Doing this just makes things worse.
Sure your teen's directing their verbal aggression towards you. You must remind yourself (because it's true) that it's not really about you. It's all about them.
One reason your teen is disrespectful is that they're angry, frustrated, irritated, sad, or hurt. They may want to get revenge on you for supposedly making them feel the way they do. They may want to get under your skin. Or they could be emotional for something that has nothing to do with you. You just caught them at a bad time. In either case, they lash out at you.
Don't give your teenager the satisfaction of getting to you. You always want to be in control of yourself. Never let your teen believe they can push your buttons. By not taking the disrespectful behavior personally, you'll be able to stay calm and composed no matter how disrespectful your teenager is being towards you. When they see that they can't push your buttons, they'll be less and less disrespectful.
Disrespectful Teenagers – Maintain Composure
Being abused by disrespectful teenagers is hurtful. So, I'm definitely not saying you shouldn't be angry, hurt, or disappointed when your teen's dissing you. These feelings are normal. What I'm saying is to keep your cool.
Keeping your cool also means having a relaxed body language. Keep your hands open. Avoid crossing your arms. Don't invade their personal space. Don't look directly into your teen's eyes. You want to look as non-threatening as possible+. You don't want to show any signs of hostility.
There's a couple of things you can do to maintain composure.
- Take deep breaths.
- Avoid looking directly at your teen when they're being verbally abusive and disrespectful. Body language triggers our emotions more than the words. You're more likely to lose it when you add hateful body language to the hateful words.
- Use self-talk. Say to yourself something like: "I'm going to stay calm." Or: "I refuse to take this personally." Or: "I'm in control, not [name of your teen]." Say whatever it takes to stay calm.
By staying calm, you're teaching your teenager what to do when they're under pressure. You're also helping to de-escalate the situation. Eventually, your disrespectful teenager will run out of steam.
Disrespectful Teenagers – Show Respect
Never trade disrespect for disrespect. It's when your teen's being the most disrespectful to you that you should show the most respect to your teenager. Not only should you be respectful to your teen, show respect to everyone.
Believe it or not, your teen's watching you. They're learning from you. You can't expect your teen to be respectful if you're not respectful to them or others.
By modeling respect, you're teaching your children how to be respectful. You're also showing that they should be respectful. If you always treat them with respect, you have a leg to stand on when you ask them to respect you.
Disrespectful Teenagers – Show Understanding
Often what drives disrespectful behavior are strong negative emotions. Your teenager may be angry, hurt, disappointed, or sad. You may or may not be the cause of these emotions. But, instead of expressing their feelings with words, they act out their feelings with disrespectful behavior.
One way to respond to disrespect is by really trying to understand what your teen's feeling at the moment and then reflecting in words what you think your teen is feeling. Don't focus on your teen's words or actions, focus on their feelings. Simply say, "You feel ______ because (whatever you think is the cause of their feelings.)"
The most important thing is to be genuine and sincere. If you're show fake empathy, your teenager will smell it a mile away. That will just make your teenager even more disrespectful.
Disrespectful Teenagers – Use "I" Statements
"I" statements are valuable when you're bothered by your teen's behavior. With "I" statement, you identify what you're thinking and feeling and why you feel the way you do. This statement allows you to communicate your thoughts and feelings about your teen's disrespectful behavior without accusing, blaming, or labeling your teen.
"I" statements are also useful because you get to show (not tell) your teenager how to express themselves appropriately.
The common formula for "I" statements is "I feel _____ when you (describe the other person's behavior)." I don't recommend using this formula because it uses the word "you." Anytime someone hears "you," they feel attacked and get defensive. So, if you say, "I feel hurt when you yell at me," your teen will feel you're attacking them and will get defensive. Avoid using "you" in your "I" statements.
Better formulas are:
- "I feel ______ when someone describe behavior" (example: "I feel disappointed when someone I love curses at me.")
- "I feel ______ when I'm describe action towards you." (Example: "I feel angry when I'm yelled at.")
Of course, there's no guarantee that your teenager still won't get defensive after your perfectly stated "I" statement. That can't be helped and shouldn't stop you from using this technique.
Disrespectful Teenagers – Silent Treatment
Sometimes, silence is not only golden, but it speaks volumes. When your teen's giving you the verbal dress-down, you can just stay silent. Maintain eye contact and say absolutely nothing at all.
Disrespectful teenagers often want a reaction from you. They want to push your buttons. They sometimes want to hurt you.
When you show hurt, hostility, or anger, or when you react to disrespect inappropriately, you give away your power to your teen. They will then keep disrespecting you. But, by using silence, you take the power away from your teenager. They're likely to stop using disrespectful behavior if they see that they can use it to get a rise out of you.
The key to making this technique work is to be totally neutral. Your body language has to be neutral.
Disrespectful Teenagers – Walk Away
Walking away when your teen's being disrespectful to you may be a good strategy. Unless you just can't keep your cool, I don't recommend that you use this first or use it often.
Also, don't just walk away without notice. Let your teen know that you're going to walk away from them and why. You can say, for example, "I won't talk to you when you're cursing at me. If you don't stop cursing at me, I will walk away from you and talk to you when you're ready to treat me with respect."
If they continue to disrespect you, say, "Since you're still cursing at me, I'm walking away." Notice that in this example, I didn't say "you're disrespecting me"; I said "cursing at me." You want your teenager to know exactly what you mean by "disrespect."
When you walk away, be sure to check back with them some time later when you're both calm. You don't want to leave your teenager hanging.
Disrespectful Teenagers – Give Consequences
Serious disrespect requires a consequence. If your teenager has a bad habit of constantly being disrespectful, you should think of several consequences beforehand so that you don't have to think of one in the moment.
In fact, during a calm moment, you should discuss the consequences with your teenager for disrespect. Even better, ask them to identify a consequence for disrespectful behavior. Disrespectful teenagers are more likely to stick to a consequence they came up with.
When your teen's being disrespectful, give two or three warnings, reminding them of the consequences. If they're still seriously disrespectful, give the consequence.
Make sure the consequence fit the crime. The goal of consequences isn't to punish your teen, but to teach them. If possible, use logical consequences.
Disrespectful Teenagers – Broken Record Technique
Rather than get in needless arguments with your teen about their disrespectful behavior, use the broken record technique.
This is how it works. Make a statement showing that you understand your teen's feelings (see "Show Understanding" above), and then say what you want them to do (not what you don't want them to do). For example, you could say, "I hear that you're angry and I want you to talk to me respectfully."
Notice that I used "and" not "but." When you use "but", what you said before you said "but" gets lost. All the other person hears is what you say after the "but." If you use "and" instead, your teenager will hear the entire message.
Next, simply repeat your statement, just like broken record. No matter what your teen says, repeat your statement using the same words, volume, and tone each time you repeat your request.
However, repeat yourself no more than three times. If by the third time your teenager doesn't listen, enforce consequences.
Disrespectful Teenagers – Talk About Incident Afterwards
After everything is calm, talk with your teen about the incident. Express your feelings and thoughts about the incident. Next, ask your teen what happened and what they thought about the incident. Don't judge or criticize or try to change their minds. Just listen.
Teach them that it's okay to be angry, but it's not okay to treat you disrespectfully. Ask your teenager how they could've handled the situation better. If they get stumped, ask them what advice they'd give to a friend.
Ask your teenager if there are things that you do that makes your teen want to disrespect you. Then, ask what you can do differently so that they'll be more respectful to you.
Then, work together with your teenager to create a list of respectful behaviors.
Lastly, work together to come up with consequences for disrespectful behavior.
Dealing with disrespectful teenagers is a challenge. Responding the wrong way to disrespectful behavior practically guarantees that your teen will continue to be disrespectful. If you want to deal with your disrespectful teenager, it's critical that you use many of the strategies I've discussed. These strategies worked for me and the parents I've helped. It will work for you as well.
Gregory Harden is a licensed professional social worker who has 15 years experienced working with at-risk youth and their families. Greg has worked as a foster care case manager, an educator at school for students with behavior problems, and a therapist. He received his bachelor's degree in psychology from University of Maryland Baltimore County. He also received his master's degree in social work from the University of Maryland School of Social Work. Greg lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Learn more about parenting difficult Black teenagers by visiting Greg's blog at www.blackparentsincharge.com/blog.