How to Handle Teenage Attitude

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Parenting teenagers is fun and easy said no parent ever.  At least none I have ever met.  Even the ones that appear so pleasant and respectful often give their parents a hard time.  I am not going to tell you I am an expert in teen or child psychology.  What I do have is practical knowledge and a strong group of women friends who have navigated the teen waters as well.  I have learned from and with them, as well as helped others through the process.  This article is a compilation of experience and research from all of us.  I hope that by sharing our experiences and responses we can provide some insight about how to handle teenage attitude. If you would also like a more perspective from a leading expert in the field, I recommend you read Parenting the New Teen in the Age of Anxiety: A Complete Guide to Your Child’s Stressed, Depressed, Expanded, Amazing Adolescence by Dr. John Duffy. 

Not mine

Remember when you used to look at those children who talked back to their parents and ran crazy through the store and think there is no way you would ever let your child behave that way?  How did that work out for you?   You now know what you didn’t know back then.  You know that they are little people who have their own minds.  You can teach them manners and how to behave, but you cannot control their behavior, at least not all the time.  If you are like most parents, your child will at some point act out, speak when they shouldn’t, and pretty much show their tails just like all the rest.  How you respond is what makes all the difference in changing behaviors you don’t like.

Start Early

Parenting teenagers starts when they are small.  What does that mean?  It means that it is never too early to teach children good manners and that there are repercussions for poor behavior.  In fact, the earlier they learn this, the easier it will be to enforce the practice when they are older.  Let me explain.  The behavior is not cute.  Passive responses such as ignoring the behavior or explaining poor behavior away as children being children is letting the child know their disruptive behavior is ok.  I speak from experience.  Of course, screaming or getting angry doesn’t really help either.  Yes, I learned that the hard way too.  What did work was a firmly spoken comment correcting the behavior, and a promise to deal with their behavior when we got home.  Then you must follow through.  This is a must.  You have to follow through.

Stay the Course

Parenting is tiring, sometimes incredibly so.  Do you wonder how to handle teenage attitude? Sometimes it doesn’t seem worth the effort.  It is ok to give up small skirmishes as long as you win the battle.  Children will try you.  If you set boundaries and rules and stick to those, your children will learn to adhere to them.  Children actually like rules and thrive with them.  Bedtimes, eating decent food, being respectful, doing homework, having chores, and a host of other rules that fit any particular family’s lifestyle are integral in shaping healthy well-adjusted productive adults.  Isn’t that the goal?  For our children to grow up and be happy, healthy, and successful? 

Start young.  Expect good behavior.  Establish rules and stick to both punishments and promises.  This is the foundation that you can fall back on when teenagers push your buttons.  It is not fun.  It is not easy.  But you can and will get through it.  Everyone does. Most teens turn out just fine too.  The goal is to get through it with as little stress and anger and grey hair as possible. 

Younger Teens

The term teenager used to mean age 13 and up.  But we see a lot of the teenager behavior and attitude starting younger, sometimes as young as 10 or 11.  What types of behaviors and attitudes do we see?  Eye rolls, talking back, rudeness, apathy, and other disrespectful behaviors.  Why is this happening?  There are experts who study these situations for years.  Could it be happening earlier due to hormone enhanced food or other environmental factors?  Stress from social media pressures that have outpaced our ability to police technology?  Something else entirely?  Yes, or no.  I don’t have a proven answer to that.   I have read quite a bit about the subject as well as successfully navigated through it, more than once.  My belief is that it is a combination of both.  The access to things on social media and the internet is the most to blame from my experience. Imagine how difficult it is for our children to handle this rage of hormones and stress. 

Enforce the Rules

Regardless of how or why they start to exhibit the behavior, we need to find a way to address and stop it without destroying their extremely fragile psyche.  If you have a strong foundation of rules and adherence to punishment or repercussion for poor behavior, then you “simply” continue in the same way.  Of course, the punishments get harder, and much more stressful and extreme in some cases, but the rewards are greater too.  For example, your child rolls their eyes at you and goes off to their room and slams the door (this was a fun one in our house).   You could handle this a couple ways.  You could ignore it, or you could stop the allowance of the behavior immediately.  The first time this happened my husband “reminded” our child that we paid the bills and owned the house, therefore they could not slam doors.  The door was not part of the roof over their head, the clothes on their back, or the food on the table that we as their parents were required to provide.  If they did not treat the house and us with respect and slammed the door again, it would be removed.  Did you know it is not very hard to take a door off the hinges?

Yes, we really did.  Never say you will do something if you don’t intend to follow through.  I can’t stress that enough.  I don’t mean threaten violence. Although the temptation to tell them that you would be happy to show them how to make eyes roll back in their head for real is tempting, this is not the approach to use.  Speaking as the parent, not the friend, telling them the rules, and then enforcing those rules, reminds your child of the boundaries.  Is this the only way to handle that situation?  No, of course not.  You can choose any punishment for privilege you prefer.  In our case the behavior was corrected immediately as the child desperately wanted to earn the door back.  You know your child.  What is something they value or like to do?  You can make that something they must earn back.  This is a good place to start when trying to establish or re-establish acceptable behavior.  To earn (privaledge or item) back in a way that is acceptable to you lets your child know what is considered acceptable behavior.  Will this work every time?  No.  Will you have to do things over and over?  Yes.  But eventually, they will turn a corner and life will get better!

Individuality

Along with displaying certain attitudinal behaviors,  teen behave in ways we don’t really care for to express their individuality.  Dressing in certain clothing choices, hair cut or color, headphones on, etc. are fine as long as they are not offensive or age inappropriate.  Ours wore sweats every day, never matched a pair of socks, wore the rattiest shoes possible, and more.  As I mentioned earlier, although those would not be my choices, the small skirmishes over those issues are not nearly as important as respectful behavior.  If they wanted to dress like a bum, I didn’t care as long as they got up in time for school, did their chores, and were respectful. 

Attitude

Punishment has always been swift in our house.  It was their choice whether or not they wanted life to be hard or easy.  Some lessons were learned quickly, and others took quite a while.  Many a day I shook my head at my child and wondered how hard was it to keep one’s mouth shut?  The attitude in the voice has always been the biggest problem at our house.  I viewed it as a power struggle as the teen wanted to establish some sort of control over their lives and tell us what they would or wouldn’t do.  Sigh.  Some lessons were very difficult.  No means no.  Period.  “No, you can’t go” never changed if they were disrespectful in the approach. 

I mentioned earlier that you are the parent, not a friend.  One day you can be friends with your children, but not until they are older and understand that you are first and always the parent.  You deserve, demand, and earn respect.  They must deliver.  It is ok if they don’t “like” you for a time.  They will get over it.  And they will respect you even more in the end.  That is where the promises kept come into play.  If you tell your child (teen) they can do something (such as go to the mall) provided they do x, y, and z, and they do those things, you should let them go.  If they don’t complete all the requirements, then they don’t go. Period. 

Please know that if you constantly make promises and don’t keep them,  your teen may stop asking and start sneaking.  You always want to keep an open line of communication between you as well.  Letting them tell you the truth, even if you don’t really like said truth, establishes a trust between you that lets them know they can always come to you.  This is vital as situations may occur that put them in dangerous situations.  If they don’t feel like they can all you, they could get harmed in some way. 

Asking you to behave in this way is easy for me to say, but very difficult to enforce.  Some days you just want to give in to the attitude as you are tired and get worn down.  Don’t!  All you reinforce in that instance is that they will get their way if they just push hard enough.  They then control you.  No.  No.  No.  Stay strong! 

Pressures

Teens face social pressure and raging hormones that they simply cannot handle.  Imagine how stressed you can get when trying to juggle all the things on your to do list.  You have age and experience on your side and it still isn’t easy.  They have neither of those things and are struggling to navigate the waters.  The traditional fears of ridicule and unpopularity have been compounded with the explosion of social media and digital lifestyles. Reputations can be made or destroyed in minutes.  And don’t forget grades, and boyfriends/girlfriends, and mean girls, and so on, and so on.  That is serious pressure.  With that pressure come the feelings of frustration, fear, and anger that they lash out with.   We are the most convenient targets, so we get most of the emotional drama.  Support and love are perfect in these instances, but you still cannot give in to the manipulation illustrated above. 

Is it often embarrassing when they behave certain ways?  Sure, just like it was when they were little.  Stay strong and steady with your rules and follow through on punishment and promises.  They know you love them.  They love you, even when they say they don’t.  It is just those jumbled emotions and feeling looking for a way out.  You can also count on the fact that someone will look at them acting out and think “I will never let my child act that way”.  Pity them, for they have no clue.  

Results

I promise things will get better.  My youngest is pushing 18.  We have had our moments, but I am immensely proud of the young woman she has become.  So how can you handle teenage attitude?  My best advice can’t be said enough.  Set your boundaries and rules and be consistent in adhering to them.  Have repercussions for broken rules and poor behavior and always follow through on punishments and promises.  Stay strong, stay true, love them when they don’t want you too, and stick to your rules.  You will reach a point of mutual love and respect sooner than you think!

XO, Coco

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