How to Parent Difficult and Disrespectful Teenagers

Many parents might think that "difficult" and "disrespectful" are just synonyms for "teenager." These attributes are so common to the teen years that parents may assume the bad behavior is a cross they have to bear until their teens grow out of it 123. This is not the case. While teenagers may become difficult during what can be a confusing transition to adulthood, surly behavior should not be the norm. Parents can address this behavior head on to make the teen years more pleasant for everyone 1.

Work on Communication

Communication is often at the heart of issues between parents and teens. Teenagers may not know how to express themselves well, causing them to act out, and parents may take the behavior to heart, causing them to lose patience and to speak in anger. Licensed social workers Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner suggest in their article "How to Respond to Disrespectful Children and Teens" that parents talk with their teens about how to express themselves in a more appropriate way, helping them to better handle their anger and frustration 12. Role play specific situations. Play your teen first so you can model appropriate responses, then let you teen give it a try.

Set Rules and Guidelines

Establish clear rules and guidelines for your teen to help him understand what behavior is acceptable. Don't just wait until your teen does something you don't like and punish him. Make sure the rules are clear from the start. The Raising Children Network suggests involving your teen in establishing these rules so that if he breaks the rules, you can remind him that he played a role in setting them. Keep the rules simple, such as "In this house, we speak kindly to one another" or "Everyone must pitch in by completing their assigned house chores." Be specific. In addition to saying, "We must be respectful," you should explain that cursing at one another is not allowed, nor is yelling. Having these conversations is about establishing family values.

Be Consistent with Punishment

When you're angry, it can be easy to make rash judgments and to get carried away with yelling. Instead, Healthy Children recommends that you wait until you are calm to set a punishment and to focus on short-term consequences that last a few hours or days, such as losing phone privileges. Don't go overboard with punishments or try to ground for weeks or months or your punishment will lose its effectiveness and your teen will look for ways to get around it, such as sneaking out. Be consistent. Healthy Children explains that if you are not consistent with consequences, your teen could become confused about what is and is not acceptable and may cause your teen to lose respect for you. The Raising Children Network also says parents should focus on the behavior, not the person. Say things like "It's not acceptable to lie about where you've been" instead of "You're a liar."

Encourage Cooperation

Though you may think that positive reinforcement is only for younger children, it is also effective for teenagers. As a parent, it is your job to guide and teach our teens, not just to punish and lecture. One way to guide them is to praise the good behavior you see. Abraham and Studaker-Cordner suggest saying things like "I really enjoyed our conversation. I hope we can have more like this." Positive reinforcement helps to encourage good behavior by making your teen feel good about himself and your relationship. It is also important that you choose your battles. Your teen will feel more resistant to what you have to say if you lecture them about every perceived transgression. Decide what's really important, and focus your efforts on those behaviors.