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How do you deal with a difficult teenager? Read this for tips in dealing with a difficult teenager and that teen attitude and understand what is normal teenage behavior.
Teen attitude is tough. Even parents who found it easy to keep their calm in the middle of a raging toddler tantrum can have a very difficult time staying cool when a teen responds disrespectfully.
Just like it was important to understand where a toddler tantrum was coming from and work to calmly guide your little one through it, it is important to understand and guide your teenager. This post has a wealth of tips for you to respond well to your teens bad attitude.
- Understanding Teen Brain Development
- Teen’s Brains Change
- Attitude Can Be Normal Teenage Behavior
- How to Prevent Teen Attitude Issues
- Start Young
- Correct Attitude with Tweens
- Give Time to Your Teen
- Allow Freedom for Your Teen
- Set Rules Together
- Build a Network
- Remember You are the Parent
- Allow Conflict
- How To Successfully Combat Teen Attitude
- Clarify When Attitude Creeps Up
- Stay Calm
- Have a Positive Attitude
- Listen Well
- Find and Address the Real Issue
- Have a Phrase
- Talk Later in Non-Conflict
- How To Successfully Combat Teen Attitude
Understanding Teen Brain Development
Before we start on some great “hows”, let’s first understand what is going on in the teen brain so we can grasp some “whys.”
Teenagers seem so rational and reasonable in many ways. When you compare a teen to a toddler, you see someone with a lot of life experience and someone who just plain knows better.
You have also recently enjoyed the golden years of parenting. Those calm waters between the toddler/preschooler age and the teenage years. Your child was probably pretty easy and calm in those years. She listened to you super well and was overall just a joy. You put in that hard work in the toddler years and enjoyed the fruit of your labors.
Then the teen years hit and a lot of that joy can evaporate or melt into confusion.
Teen’s Brains Change
In the first years of life, your child’s brain developed and changed rapidly. Then it chilled out and rested for a bit. When the teen years hit, it ramps back up. Your teenager’s brain is changing again very rapidly. In fact, key components of the brain are not developed as teens and really don’t stop developing until age 25.
Teens process and make decisions with the amygdala, or the emotional part of the brain. Adults process with the prefrontal cortex, or the rational part of the brain. Your teen just can’t think things through in the same way you can or the same way he eventually can when his brain is done developing. Read more about that here.
All of that is to say, sometimes your teenager will make a dumb decision you can’t understand and even he can’t understand. That dumb decision might be small, like rolling his eyes at you. It could be much bigger.
It could be hurtful and you just feel like your teenager is so mean to you.
Whatever it is, take a step back and remember, my child’s brain is still developing.
It is often normal teenage behavior.
Attitude Can Be Normal Teenage Behavior
Remember those toddler tantrums? Remember how you eventually learned and accepted that the tantrums were a normal part of development for your toddler?
The same is true with your teenager and attitude. Just like the tantrum, the teen attitude sometimes appears just because.
Just like with the toddlers, we do not have to accept the attitude. You can correct for it. Sometimes, you let the child “surrender with dignity.”
I keep comparing the whole situation to toddlers because it is all very similar in reality in that they are both developing the brain rapidly and both make some decisions and actions that seem really dumb. We need to have patience in both situations and respond wisely and not emotionally.
How to Prevent Teen Attitude Issues
Because of what we just discussed, you are going to have times your teenage does something that leaves you wondering what just happened. But teenage years do not have to be horrible. It isn’t a nightmare. You can have a positive relationship with your teenager. I thoroughly enjoy my teenagers and know many, many parents who do.
If you are a parent who is far away from teenage years and you are reading this, start young! Start establishing those expectations with your baby and keep those expectations from there. If you do not allow disrespect from your toddler and you hold that standard through the years, your teenager is far less likely to be disrespectful. If he tries it, one look, a look he is familiar with, will remind him he is stepping onto ground that is not tolerated in your family.
Whatever age your little one is now, start now and stick with it.
Correct Attitude with Tweens
Tweens sometimes show some attitude and emotion. It is a dress rehearsal for teenage years. It is much less intense and not as constant. Correct your attitude with your preteen when it pops up. Don’t laugh it off. Don’t try to be a cool friend to your child. Be the parent. Correct your preteen so you can build on that correction in the teen years. Read my tips for how to correct a preteen here.
Give Time to Your Teen
Spend time with your teenager. We parents easily can busy ourselves with other tasks as our kids get older and “need us less.” We become less available to them emotionally and literally physically because we make commitments elsewhere.
I have always heard from older women to be sure to be present for your teenagers and even that a teenager needs you there even more than your preschooler did.
Make sure you leave time in your day for your teenager. And of course, if you want your teen to want to be with you as a teen, spend time with them in those younger years. Build that relationship from a young age so they will just continue it in teen years.
I find teens want to be with me a lot more than they did when they were little. Set yourself up to be able to be there.
Have things you do with your teen that are just special for the two of you. With Brayden, Nate started working with him on small engine repair in our garage about 4-5 mornings a week. It is something unique the two of them share and time they can talk and just be with each other. Brayden and I have started binge-watching Survivor seasons.
Maybe you will bake a dessert together every Sunday. Maybe you will go for an evening walk. It doesn’t have to be fancy, and the less fancy it is, the easier time you will have with being consistent and making it a thing for the two of you consistently.
And don’t forget to keep up your parent/child dates with your teenager.
We also plan to do a vacation with each child, just parents and the one child, when they turn 15 years old. We want to have some focused time together, make some fun memories that are special and unique, and strengthen that bond in the middle of the teen years.
Allow Freedom for Your Teen
You must relinquish control and let your teen start to have more freedom in the teen years. Do not micromanage your child. Do not hover over your child.
Do not rescue your child when mistakes are made. Allow your teen to experience those consequences and learn from them.
If you have worked on teaching your child in the younger years, this step will be something you have done many times. You have allowed more freedom many times over the years. Continue it. You have allowed your child to experience consequences for actions. Continue it.
Set Rules Together
You can show your teenager you have respect for her by involving her in setting rules. Many new freedoms will come up, but those will need rules. You might allow your child to stay out with friends later. What time is later? What is the new curfew? Discuss it together. Maybe your teen will get access to a device. What will the limitations be?
As you set rules together, set the consequences for breaking those rules.
Then you must enforce them. Teens still push limits and boundaries. They still test, just like they did as toddlers.
Enforce the rules. Let your child know they are safe and secure under your watch because you will be consistent with your rules and expectations.
Build a Network
It takes a village. It is true for teenagers. Help your child build a network in life. Teammates, church leaders, grandparents, aunts and uncles, members of a band or choir…help set your teen up to have access to a network of people who are there for them and working with you to help raise your teen.
Remember You are the Parent
You are the parent, not the friend. Your child has one set of parents and endless opportunities for friends. Fulfill the parent role.
Step in if your child is doing something wrong. Correct it. Cut ties with a network member if the relationship is not healthy for your teen. Set rules and boundaries as needed. Enforce rules. You are the parent. Be the parent and know that is your charge; that is your job.
Setting this precedent from the beginning (remember Mom, not baby, decides?) helps prevent issues because it is understood you are the parent. That doesn’t mean you get to be a dictator and it doesn’t mean your teenager should never be allowed to question you. You need to allow questions, ponder them, but always remember you are the parent.
While we are talking about it, allow conflict. Allow your teen to have questions and come to you with them. It can be done respectfully. Your child needs to be allowed to think and to question authority figures. Allow for learning and even debate. Teenagers need to develop independence so they can soon move out of the house and hold their own in society.
Allowing conflict helps to prevent teen attitude because your teen will not feel stifled and will know his concerns and ideas are considered.
How To Successfully Combat Teen Attitude
Now that you understand some why and you have some strategies for prevention, it is time to talk about some strategies on how to respond and how to not respond.
Clarify When Attitude Creeps Up
Teens often respond emotionally (back to that brain thing) without even realizing it. I have had both Brayden and Kaitlyn roll their eyes at me and not even realize it. They have both had a sigh escape them when they have been asked to do something.
They know better than to do things like this, but it happens.
So when your teen says or does something they should not, it is helpful to say, “You just rolled your eyes at me and that is offensive. Did you mean to do that?”
Most will respond with no (even if they did mean it…they feel repentant right away). This is a time to let them surrender with dignity. “Okay good. Just keep in mind rolling your eyes is really disrespectful and not how you should respond to people.”
It can also help to demonstrate how your child sounded or looked in the reaction. They often truly do not realize how whiny or entitled they sound until you demonstrate for them.
Always start off with giving your teen the benefit of the doubt. If you respond with guns blazing and accusing your child, you are telling your child your view of him is that he will respond with disrespect. Instead, paint a picture that you expect him not to be disrespectful. That would surprise you. It would surprise you so much that you will always clarify before reacting to the disrespect rather than just assume disrespect was intended.
People rise to expectations.
When your teenager is disrespectful and has a bad attitude, stay calm.
Stay calm, stay calm, stay calm.
I know it isn’t easy.
But stay calm. Do not flip out.
You are the one whose brain is fully developed and can literally physically respond rationally.
Have a Positive Attitude
No matter the age of your child, your response to a situation is huge on the path correction will follow from there.
When you have a teenager, your child is old enough for you to be able to keep things light and use humor in your response.
One day recently, we were reading scriptures together as a family. We get up early to do this, which can definitely lead to some grumpiness and attitude at times.
One morning, Kaitlyn was sitting close to Brinley on the couch. Kaitlyn shot Brinley that teen attitude look that clearly communicated her disdain for the fact that Brinley was sitting to close to her.
There were three paths to follow here. One is to ignore it. Sometimes ignoring is a great path to take. But something I do not let my kids get away with is being unkind to each other. That is just a big no at our house, so ignoring is not something I would do in that case.
Another path would have been to firmly say her name and give her the mom look. She would know. It would have worked.
But instead, I leaned forward and took my third path. I kind of like to respond to drama in dramatic, humorous ways to help bring them out of the funk and realize they are being silly.
“Kaitlyn!” I said in a loud whisper.
She looked at me. I could tell she knew I had fully spotted her drama and was about to comment on it. The attitude on her face was already softening.
“Was she breathing your air?!?!?!?” I inquired.
Kaitlyn did not respond but softened.
“Brinley, do not breath her air!”
Kaitlyn suppressed a smile and Brinley giggled.
We just don’t take things too seriously. I have a relationship built up with my kids so I can respond in that way and they know it is code for “Change your attitude and lighten up” without them getting in trouble or getting a lecture.
When your child is ranting, or sharing, or emoting about something devastating or upsetting, just listen and listen well. Do not jump in with advice. Do not downplay the issue.
Use reflective language that restates what your teen is telling you. You basically repeat what is being said. You can ask things like, “How did you feel about that?” Simply repeating, though, is super powerful.
Make sure you put devices down, turn away from your computer or phone.
If you were in the middle of making dinner, continue it unless you feel you should stop. This is especially true with boys. Males tend to feel more comfortable sharing feelings when the focus isn’t straight on them. So if you were doing something when approached that you can really multi-task with (folding laundry, making dinner, dusting, etc.).
Find and Address the Real Issue
Pay attention to the emotion behind the attitude more than the attitude being displayed. It is very common for humans to react to a situation in anger or frustration when it isn’t that exact situation they are upset about it.
So your teen might come home from school and huff and puff about being asked to unload the dishwasher. But she isn’t actually upset about doing the unloading of the dishwasher. She is upset because she didn’t do well on her math test today and she has an English paper due tomorrow and her evening is busy. So she feels stressed and like she doesn’t have enough time and you just asked her to use what time she had for something she wasn’t planning on.
Investigate the heart of the matter and find the real issue.
This is why it is valuable to spend time with your teen and have things you and your teen do together that are just the two of you so you can help prevent attitude. When you know what is going on in general, you can find the heart quickly. When you have a relationship, she will share her heart more readily.
Not all teens are naturals at being introspective. You might try to dig on why your child is being a punk and get “I don’t know.” (I don’t recommend using the term punk in most cases though). You might have to do some digging to help your teen realize, “Oh, I am not really mad at my little sister. I am upset that my friend ignored me at school today.”
Have a Phrase
When things are not tense, you can talk to your teenager and come up with a phrase you will say to let your teen know, “Hey, you are having a bad attitude right now. You need to chill out.” It could be something silly like, “Gee. I really like to watch purple monkeys fly.” It would be your code for “You are being unkind. You need to step back and change your attitude” without having to get into it.
Talk Later in Non-Conflict
Speaking of when things are not tense, when no one is upset or feeling attitude, talk things out. Talk about how your child acted or reacted and why that wasn’t okay. Talk about what the behavior communicated to others. Talk about what behavior would have been okay.
I find it very helpful to have the opposite parent talk with the child. If Brayden says or does something disrespectful toward me, Nate talks to him about it later that day. Nate explains what the action was and why it wasn’t okay. Having a third party, or mediator, is super helpful. Having the person who was not offended or disrespected explain what happened and why it wasn’t okay really helps the teenager step back and think about it. They realize it isn’t someone just being sensitive or picky. There is a legitimate concern.
These tips will help you have a happy, healthy relationship with your teen. They will help you respond in a constructive way when your teen as had attidue. They will help you prevent that attitude from creeping up and help your teel learn to control their emotional part of their brain and react in an appropriate way that is not hurtful to others.
- Understand teenage brains are still developing and teens naturally react to situations differently than adults.
- Take steps to prevent attitude. Set standards young, correct children as they grow so the expectation is set, give time to your teen each day, allow freedoms to grow for your teen, set rules with your teen, and build a network for your teen. Allow conflict and questioning, but always remember you are the parent.
- Respond when attitude rears its head. Clarify and ask if the message conveyed is the message the teen was trying to convey. Stay calm when reacting and have a positive attitude. Keep things light. Listen well to your teen and address the real problem at hand and at the heart of the issue. Have a secret phrase to say to your teen to remind him he is displaying a poor attitude and needs to change it. Hash out problems later once everyone has had a chance to calm down.
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