Threats and Punishment do not Eliminate Teen Disrespect
It is not uncommon for parents of teenagers to be upset by the disrespect, sarcasm, and talking back that they must endure on an almost daily basis.
For instance, Rene, the mother of 14-year-old Diana, said that she is having a very difficult time coping with Diana’s disrespect, poor language, and her accusations that her mother is mean.
“Diana doesn’t seem to think she has to talk in a respectful manner to me,” Rene said. “She has told me to shut up and says she doesn’t want to go along with the rest of the family to family events or activities.”
Rene says that her response to Diana is to remind her that she is the parent and she won’t tolerate disrespect. “However, all I get back from her is her telling me that I need to respect her first.”
Andrew experiences the same thing from his 16-year-old son Michael.
“He’s defiant and disrespectful,” says Andrew, “and he tries to tell me what he will and won’t do. I feel like we have constant arguments over his language, his attitude and the way he speaks to his mother and me.”
Andrew tries to control the situation by threatening Michael with punishment and taking away things that Michael likes – such as the use of the family computer. “But that doesn’t seem to change anything,” Andrew says. “He’s still just as disrespectful!”
Both Andrew and Rene are living with teenagers who are striving for more independence and separation from their parents. Like many other adolescents who are trying to figure out who they are, Diana and Michael have become more distant and less agreeable with their parents. In addition, they are often unbelievably sarcastic and verbally disrespectful to their parents.
However, if you’re experiencing the same with your teenager, it doesn’t have to be this way. But I’m not going to suggest that you use more threats and punishment. In fact, just the opposite. If you try to deal with what is fairly normal adolescent behavior by increasing punitive attempts at discipline, things will not get better.
My first suggestion is that despite all the disrespect you’re getting that you show your appreciation for all of their good qualities. You need to let them know that you are proud of them for working so hard at school, being kind to others, and not having behavior problems at school.
Next, while it is frequently very difficult for you to overlook their disrespectful comments, that’s exactly what you should do. Although you might think this will mean they will believe they are getting away with being disrespectful and they will, therefore, become even more disrespectful, that’s unlikely to happen.
It is very important to ignore a lot of the comments of teenagers. It is just not worth it to get into arguments about whether what they said was sarcastic or disrespectful. Nor is it worth it to try to police everything they say. You just have to let it go and pretend you never heard it. If you try to force respect, they will be more disrespectful.
It is also essential to keep in mind that you can’t threaten or punish every act of disrespect. If you feel like you need to take a zero tolerance or tough approach, you’ll find that all you are doing is threatening and punishing. That is likely to make their behavior worse and they will think of you as mean; they’ll feel like you are picking on them and that you are always yelling at them.
Make sure you concentrate on the things they are doing well. If you focus too much on the things you dislike, then you miss out on opportunities to give them praise and attention for all the good things they are doing.
The bottom line in forging a new and more improved relationship with your teenager is to ignore the disrespectful comments, the remarks, and the complaints that you’ve been trying to change. If you do this, you’ll be less stressed out and, ironically, things will get better. And you can save your threats and punishments for the really important misbehaviors.
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