Parents Dealing with Teenage Behavior

January 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Ask Dr. Vicki, Child Development, Parenting

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How much do you like playing tug of war?


 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! 

How do you handle your child’s disrespectful behavior?  Please feel free to leave a comment below.




15 Responses to “Parents Dealing with Teenage Behavior”
  1. Dear Dr. Vicki,

    Thank you for this insightful essay. I especially like the Socrates’ quote – helps put everything in perspective.

  2. Frustrated Mom says:

    Very well said! I know I really need to learn not to pick that other end of the rope up. Thanks for the insight.

  3. Susan cook says:

    Boy could I have used this article thirty minutes ago. Guess I’ll have to remember it for next time.

  4. step-dad says:

    This has been helpful but what do you suggest for a defiant 13 year old step-son who’s been told by dad that he doesn’t have to listen to me and, in the teens eyes, any punishment I give is not bad enough? An example is when I take the ipod away for a week his response is “I don’t care, I can go two weeks with out it”. My normal response is “fine, two weeks it is. Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it”. This has happened countless times and he just waits out the time until he gets it back and then it’s right back to the same old behavior. I never seem to be making a dent. What can I do?

  5. This article is very helpful, especially to know that I’m not alone! Our son makes me feel like the worst mom on the planet most days and I also really appreciate the quote from Socrates. Guess some things never change!

  6. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    It’s all part of the developmental process. Hang in there…this too shall pass.

  7. My fourteen year old daughter is at that age where she thinks that if she can get away with it, she will: like swearing at her mother or disrepecting her step- father. And I’m asked to sort it out and I’m her real father. What can I do to help? My relationship with her mother was seven years ago. Please help.

  8. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    You are in a tough situation because you are not living in that home. What you can do, however, is be a sounding board for your daughter to let you know what it’s like for her to live in that home. Let her vent without judging her; allow her to have her feelings and validate that whatever whe is feeling is perfectly fine. She is angry about something, and does not feel much respect for her mom and stepdad. Perhaps you can help her problem-solve how to handle some situations, or suggest that they seek the assistance of a child psychologist who can help the two parents be more effective in managing your daughter, while assessing and mediating some of the issues that are causing her disrespect. And, be sure the let her know that it is fine to feel anyway she feels…but disrespecting adults is not OK.

  9. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    That’s a very difficult position to be in. The root of the problem is that this boy has no respect for you or your authority; and he’s backed up by his dad. In this case, I do not think that you should be doling out the consequences. Leave that to his mother. It is really up to her and his biological dad to coparent this child. Your biggest problem is having been put into a role that the situation has deemed to be a no-win one. He obviously does not see you as his dad nor as a parental figure of any kind. My suggestion is that if you are filling that role in other ways (i.e.–giving him money, driving him places, taking him out to eat, etc.) that you no longer perform those tasks. If he wants any benefit from having a relationship with you, then he needs to respect you first.

  10. dr. evans says:

    Ain’t nobody got time for that!

  11. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    I hear this comment a lot—parents don’t feel they have time to do something for themselves to channel their stress and regroup. The problem is that if you don’t take the time, you will find that you are getting into more battles with your kids (because you are tired, frustrated and acting on your last nerve) and/or you will get sick so that you will be forced to take time for yourself. I understand that there may not be a lot of time in the day. Even so, find a few minutes to take some deep breaths and think some happy thoughts or sit in a relazing yoga posture, for example, can do wonders without having to take a lot of time to destress. Thank you for your comment!

  12. kunal thakur says:

    there is a girl who loves me a lot . she always says that her mom douse not love her and other stuff . and her mom and her dad are already not together because every days fight . she always say that i make her happy . And the situation is i don’t like her. she always finds me interesting what should i do ?

  13. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    Thank you for writing in! This girl is obviously having difficulty in her life and looking to get her attention and love outside of her family. However, that is not your job. I think that it’s important to be honest and also kind. You can tell her that you just want to be friends, or that you don’t feel the same way that she does. Most importantly, don’t get yourself tied down in a situation that you don’t want to be in.


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. says:

    Parents Dealing with Teenage Behavior : Better Parenting Institute…

    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 all…

  2. […] Parents Dealing with Teenage Behavior : Better Parenting Institute. […]