Parents Dealing with Teenage Behavior
|15 Comments |||
Dear Dr. Vicki:
I have a 15 yr old daughter, 12 year old son and a 9 month old little girl. My oldest daughter has always been head strong and demanding, so her teenage issues seemed like “typical” stuff. My 12 year old son who was always the laid-back/ helpful, wants to please son is now morphing into a child who is disrespectful, defiant and unflexible. I have tried many ways to bring him out of what I call “a funk” but nothing seems to work. He always has to have the last word, knows what is best and pushes buttons every chance he gets. In trying to maintain sanity in my house I have placed an extreme amount of stress on myself. I’m not sure what my next step should be. Any tips? I love all of my kids and tell them on a regular basis. But I have recently reacted poorly to my son and daughters’ relentless disrespect and defiance. Dr. Vicki’s response: You are not alone! Welcome to the world of parenting adolescents! These laments come from parents of tweens and teens all over the world! In fact, check out this quote:
“Young people nowadays love luxury; they have bad manners and contempt for authority. They show disrespect for old people and love silly talk in place of exercise. They no longer stand up when older people enter the room; they contradict their parents, talk constantly in front of company, gobble their food and tyrannize their teachers.” ~ Socrates 400 B.C.E.
As you can see, adolescence hasn’t changed much in that last 2400 years! And, my guess is the cave-parents had similar grunts and groans. Adolescence is a roller coaster of experiences, where teens are struggling with physically, hormonally, socially, emotionally and academically (harder demands) changes all at the same time.
It is very age-appropriate for children of these ages to become more defiant and disrespectful, since they are beginning to feel their oats—and beginning to gain a sense of independence. That being sad, normal and age-appropriate is not the same as allowing the behavior. Respect for authority is always important, and I do not think that disrespect and defiance should be tolerated.
Most importantly, don’t allow the disrespect or defiant attitude to work for them. These behaviors shouldn’t get them what they want—ever! Second most importantly…STAY CALM! Their attitude is usually not personally directed, but rather the way they are feeling as a whole…you just happen to have the honor of feeling the brunt of it. In other words, their sarcasm and surliness are reflections of their bucking against restrictions, rules and limits…and you are generally the one who is setting them. The same thing holds true for, “I hate you!” It’s not that they really hate you; they are really angry about your getting in their way of having what they want. So, not taking the remark as a personal directive will help you maintain your self-control. When kids are out of control, they need you to stay in control all the more. If you ‘lose it,’ then you are stooping to their level.
It sounds as though you had different expectations for your children. The disrespect of you daughter was almost accepted because she was always strong-willed. However, it was when you laid-back child started to display these behaviors, then it felt like the last straw. No matter how kids are prior to puberty, all bets are off once they enter the “roller-coaster” zone! Perhaps you have let your daughter’s behavior slide, and your son is following suit and being dealt with more harshly?
Lessening your feeling of stress is the key. You really can’t change anyone but yourself. So, in this case, change comes from two directions…out toward them, and in toward you.
When your child says something disrespectful, think of it as an invitation to play tug-of-war. The game can only be played if both of you tug at opposite ends of the rope. However, if your teen is holding one end, and (with the defiance) tossing you the other end, you have two choices…you can choose to pick up the tossed end and go into battle, or you can choose not to pick up the rope and decide not to play. If you don’t join into the ‘tug,’ then you are more able to remain on steady ground.
You might respond with, “I need you to say that in a nicer tone if you want me to respond.” You might choose to ignore it and walk away. Or, you might decide to give a consequence for the behavior. I think that children ought to show respectful behavior in the home, before they are allowed to interact with the outside world via technology or visits with friends. Furthermore, defiance and refusal can be met with your own refusal to do the next thing they ask you to do: “I would have loved to drive you and your friend to the movies. However, I don’t feel like doing what you want, when you refuse to do what I ask of you.”
There is another way to respond: Comment on the feeling behind the words: “Gosh—you sound so annoyed with me…” thereby, opening up the possibility for conversation. Do this only if you are really willing to hear what they have to say and not give into the urge to pick up the rope. And, you can try to have a conversation in a calm moment, “Look, things are just not going well between us and I would like it to be better. How can I help make that happen? What do you think you can do?”
As far as lessening your stress by responding in toward you…Make sure you have an outlet. This can be going to the gym, taking a bubble bath or hot shower, gardening, yoga classes and so on. You need to take care of you so that you can respond more calmly to them. Take some deep breaths, count to 10, say the alphabet backwards…anything that gives you a momentary gap between what they say/do and your response. Remember: When emotions go high, intelligence goes low! Then, you have picked up the rope and the tug-of-war goes on.
Enjoy your kids!