Thursday, November 18, 2010

The kid's Got Attitude

Standing in front of a hundred parents I ask them to shout out adjectives that describe their teen. Surly, disrespectful, mean, sarcastic, argumentative, are a few that top the list. Where is that lovely 8-year-old who can't tell you enough how much he loves you, in fact loves you so much he wants to marry you when he grows up! So much for unrequited love.

Here is what's going on. Your teen has now figured out that they are not you! Plain and simple. And to drive that point home, they will find any way they can to communicate that message to you. If you are a reader, they will disdain books, if you hate television, they will find the most offensive show on and make sure to watch it instead of doing homework, If you are a republican, they will be a democrat, if you eat meat, they will become a vegetarian, if you are religious, they will be an atheist. Get the picture. Teens are practicing how to stand on their own two feet, just like they did as a two year old, using the word NO as a mainstay of their vocabulary. Adulthood is looming and they get somewhere in that developing brain of theirs that they will be expected to think for themselves.  You dear parents are their guinea pigs.

Now, having said that, this does not give your teen carte blanche to be disrespectful. I have spent many minutes standing behind pairs of parents and kids in check-out lines in clothing stores listening to teens talk trash to their parents. It is all I can do to stop myself from tearing those $200 jeans from that daughter's hands and telling the parent to just walk away from the register. Because truly that is what the parent should have done. Instead I hear the low grumble of that parent's voice" this is the last thing I buy for you, you don't talk to me that way, I've had it! Now excuse me while I take out my credit card."

When your kid is mean, or sarcastic and disrespectful, sticking your finger in their face, and telling them they can't talk to you that way....after they just did seems a little contradictory and is a pretty ineffectual strategy to change behavior. Sometimes parents up the ante by threats to take away their phone, their computer, their life if they continue to talk to them in "that tone of voice". Which of course enrages the kid even more, and requires the parent to think up more things to take away. Because after all, you can't let your kid get away with that level of disrespect.

Here are some effective strategies. First lighten up. Humor often can be the best anecdote to disrespect. Ask any bully. Its not fun to bully someone if it doesn't get them all riled up. So if it is the mild form of disrespect, when they are being more sarcastic than out right mean, grab them and give them a big smooch and say something like" You're so adorable when you are being a pain in the a**."This catches them off guard breaking the rhythm of discord. Often your kids aren't even that aware of how they are talking to you. Humor is a much more powerful tool to call attention to it than anger.

If you move into more moderate and severe disrespect, that unmistakable, whiny, yelling, demanding thing. Using an "I get It moment" may help. So instead of yelling, "Don't talk  to me that way, you're grounded." You might say. " I know you're frustrated, I know you think I am being unfair (fill in the blank with whatever he/she is accusing you of), I get it, and I would like to hear what you have to say, but not when you're screaming at me." And now you walk away. Seriously, walk away. There is nothing to be gained by continuing this drama, and disengaging sends a powerful message. Grab your dog and go for a walk, get in the car and go for coffee, go in your room and close the door. Whatever you do, DO NOT get hooked back into this screaming match. Sometime later, perhaps you go into their room and say, "I would like to hear what you have to say." The key here is to just listen, don't get all defensive and feel like you have to keep making your point. If after you have listened and you haven't heard anything new, feel free to say, "thank you for saying this in a way I can really hear you, I get that this is important to you, but it just can't happen, and I am sorry about that." Give a little shoulder shrug, and WALK AWAY!! You're teen is not going to say thank you for saying no. They will be frustrated, and angry, but if you disengage you are protecting them from letting their anger become  disrespect towards you. If you stay, nothing good will come of it.

Using the example of the mom in the store, when your kid starts to abuse you when you are actually doing something nice for him/her, there is only one thing to do, not yelling, not telling them how ungrateful they are being, JUST STOP DOING IT. If you are in the car, taking them someplace they want to go, a friend's, the mall, CVS and they start in with you on something, rather than going to the  "I've had it, why should I ever do anything for you when you treat me this way rant," say nothing. Turn the car around and go home, drop the $200 pair of jeans on the counter and vamoose out of the store. You are teaching your teen about the reciprocity of relationships. If you ground or take your teens phone away because they treated you badly, there is often no lasting effect because there is no relationship connection. When you withhold yourself from doing the things you usually love doing for your teen, there is a connection, a powerful connection. Actions ALWAYS speak louder than words.

1 comment:

  1. You are a wonder! This is such a great set of strategies. Dang, I wish you had started this blog 7 years ago!