How to Handle Disrespectful Teenager?

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Q: I am a mom of 4 kids: 15-year-old girl, 13-year-old boy, 10-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy. My oldest, at around age 9, stared eye rolling and disrespectful behaviors that has only gotten worse. I limit electronics/TV/social media while my husband historically has not. He prefers them quiet even if they are watching TV for hours. If I took away TV or electronics privileges, he often undermines my decision and allows the kids to do what has been taken away or go to their friend’s house even if they are being punished for something.  (Does not like confrontation.) He is either doing nothing (completely ignoring them even if they are misbehaving) or screaming.

Recently, my oldest used my credit card without permission and spent $700 online and had it shipped to her friend’s house so I wouldn’t notice. She did this two years ago ($100 of Victoria’s Secret stuff we returned and she was punished). She often calls me names and swears at me/disrespects me (I took her to counseling because of this because I am a 4-year breast cancer survivor and wasn’t sure if she was having issues with this).

I have taken away her phone, social media, told her she is paying me and giving me the clothes, no profanity, no sports, and on house arrest until further notice. My husband is now “feeling bad” and being overly sweet to her even though she did this to herself! Our marriage is suffering because I resent him for not being on the same page on parenting. How long do I punish her for? Am I doing this right? I do not want a criminal for a daughter or my other kids to think this is okay. Thank you so much!

A: I know it’s hard not to be on the same parenting page as your husband, as it can cause distress and problems, much like you’ve outlined in your question. But I would encourage you to sit down with your husband not to tell him what he needs to do, but to talk sincerely how he feels things are going in relation to your kids. What does he think about what happened with your oldest? What are his thoughts on consequences/punishments? Does he feel there are things that could be done differently? And listen, really listen, without judgment, without adding your two cents’ worth, without jumping in and trying to fix things. That will be difficult, but until you can start having honest conversations with your husband, things won’t get better.

You also have to let go that you know the best, only way to raise these kids. You married this man, and had four kids with him—there must be something about him that you love and admire. See if in your conversations with him you can draw out those qualities that made you fall in love with him. See if he can use those qualities to interact with your kids because kids need parents who have different perspectives.

And you can have different ways of parenting that reach the same goal—so that’s why I’m urging you to talk with your husband to find out his thoughts. How would he handle these situations? It doesn’t sound like he wants your kids to run amok entirely.

Also talk about the purpose of punishment—to make a child feel bad about what happened and to help the child’s conscious to pipe up at the beginning of the next time, to check the child before the child misbehaves. Kids often don’t feel bad on their own—they need outside influences to make them uncomfortable so that they will self-correct the next time (because there’s always a next time). I think if your husband has a better understanding of why consequences are necessary, he might be more in tune with giving them. If a consequence doesn’t hit a child where it hurts, then the child won’t be motivated to change her behavior.

Finally, it’s okay to show your child love even while punishing them! You can love and punish at the same time—that’s not mitigating the consequences, that’s showing mercy and grace to a child who’s suffering from her own choices. As for how long to punish her, let her attitude be your guide. But while she’s under house arrest, be kind to her, and show her that you love her dearly.

The Garden of Disrespect

Q: I need some advice on what to do with my 13-year-old son. We have tried several consequences in the past for his disrespectful behavior but they are never successful for long. We’re considering full-room restriction without anything meaningful (i.e., stripped down room). How long should he be on “kicked out” before he can start earning back privileges? During this period, can I ignore any disrespectful talk or do I need to start the clock again for even one disrespectful comment utter under his breath? Sometimes he tries to talk with us they way he talks with his friends and he is having difficulty knowing when that is/is not appropriate. Thanks for any info/guidance you can provide!

A: What is it about teenagers that drives us crazy? Their attitude, for one. But all too often we expect perfection and are too quick to take offense when we should ignore.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When addressing disrespectful attitudes, first, define exactly what you mean by disrespectful behavior. I don’t recommend things like “tone of voice” because that’s so subjective (and sometimes that can depend on how we’re feeling on a given day too!). Be very concrete. Is it a particular phrase that’s uttered, such as “whatever”, etc., or is it him not listening to you (such as looking at his phone or device while you’re talking to you), or does he not participate in family time?

Second, given the longevity of this problem already, you’ll need to make a big impression. I’d do the garden kick/full-room restriction for at least 60 days with a very targeted list of three to five specific behaviors. If an eyeroll isn’t on the list, ignore it–that’s how you determine whether or not the behavior warrants a restart of the 60 days or a pass.

Before you implement this, though, you might also want to consider having him come up with a solution to overcoming his disrespectful attitude. Say that you’ve noticed these particular things (list them), and ask him to come up with a way to stop doing those things. Maybe you have a particular way of phrasing things that’s a hot button for him. (I remember that my mom had a way of commenting on my outfit that made my blood boil as a teenager, and I heard her using the same language with my younger sister with the same result). Sometimes we can assist our kids in changing by modifying our way of talking too.

Perhaps if he comes up with a good list of things he can do to avoid being disrespectful, you can say you’ll try those for a set time period (maybe two or three weeks). Then re-evaluate and see if you need to do move to a full-room restriction.