What Do You Say to a Disobedient Teen?

A wayward teenager who is engaging in disobedient and disrespectful behavior can tax the limits of your patience. Although you may feel frustrated and angry, don’t give up. It’s important to find a way to reach your teen and bring her back into a place where she will listen and respect parental authority.

Calm Yourself

The anger and frustration can build to uncomfortable levels when you’re dealing with a disobedient teen. A common reaction to these feelings might be engaging in shouting matches and daily battles with your teenager. Dr. James Dobson, Ph.D. and author, suggests a more effective alternative to unpleasant yelling. Instead, the first step involves calming yourself and letting go of your anger. Attacking your teenager about his behavior is likely to incite anger and stubbornness in your teen, with no way to solve the problem effectively.

Approach Your Teen

With a calm attitude, approach your teen at a time when tempers aren’t flaring and distractions aren’t pulling her attention away from you. You might pull her aside into a quiet room at home, ask her to take a walk with you or invite her out for a meal -- just the two of you. With the stage set, launch into a proactive and positive discussion about the issues that have been going on in your family.


With a positive approach, talk about how unpleasant life has been lately. Take personal responsibility for any mistakes you’ve made to lead the way for your teen to do the same. Apologize if you’ve lost your temper and tell your teen that you want things to be better between you. You might tell your teenager that it’s common and normal for adolescents to strive for greater independence during the teen years. Explain to your teen that your job is to make sure he stays safe, and conducts himself responsibly and respectfully. Invite a spirit of cooperation and working together to resolve the problems and connect more positively. Focus on the Family suggests using the word “we” as you discuss matters with your teenager to let him know that you’re solving problems together.

Setting Limits

Tell your teen that you will do your best to be fair and to listen to her, but that she must respect your authority when you make decisions. Although she may feel like she’s ready to take on the world, the reality is that she is still under your authority and you are responsible for her. Provide a clear run-down of your expectations for your teenager, along with connected consequences for disobedience. Tell your teen that if she refuses to comply, she will back you into an unpleasant corner that you don’t want to visit. Although it will pain you, you will have no choice but to seek professional intervention with crisis counselors or authorities. The Vera Institute of Justice indicates that states have agencies available to help with teens in crisis.