Teen Attitude

by Pam

I have a teen son, Ben, (age 14) who is very disrespectful towards me, his dad and his 3 younger sibs. Just constant snarky comments, name calling, relentless negativity, seems to mostly hate to do anything with us as a family. If we try to correct him, he storms off and slams his door, or yells and generally gets worse. This isn't something he always did, maybe only in the past year. How can we make him respect others? I don't want to be raising a disrespectful angry kid. He's my oldest and my first teen, and too old for all the things that used to work. Help!!!

Answer by Kristina Miller:

Dear Pam,

Don't worry, your feelings of bewilderment are very common, and justified! It's difficult to understand WHY teens do some of the things they do, or make the choices they make... logic and a common sense of decency don't always appear to play into their thoughts.

But remember, you're confused about what they're doing, and you're an ADULT who has been through the teen years yourself! This is a brand new world, brand new emotions and feelings and thoughts and troubles that never occurred to your son before. He's navigating new waters too. That is where a lot of this acting out is likely coming from. So give yourself AND Ben a break!

Some of this will work itself out with time, but in the meantime, you do want to continue to enforce the rules of the house in an even-handed and consistent manner. So for instance, you may need to sit down with him (or go for a drive with him, or take him out to dinner) and talk about the negativity. If you do so in a sincere way, instead of an accusatory way, he will be more receptive. (Granted, you DO have the right as the parent to accuse him and confront him with his bad behavior - but that's not always the most effective approach for getting the results you want.)

Remember, he doesn't WANT to be disliked, he doesn't WANT to be angry or upset all the time, and he doesn't WANT to live in a tense household. You can discuss with him how he can accomplish those goals, while still getting his feelings out in some other way. Set down some rules, such as no slamming the door, and asking to be excused from the conversation or the dinner table before getting up and storming away. And let him know what will happen if he doesn't abide. Consequences will be different now that he is older - perhaps if he slams the door two more times, the door comes off its hinges and sits in the basement until he shows he can control his anger. After all, you can't have your property damaged. Or perhaps every time he slams the door, it equals an hour cleaning out the garage. He can help restore order to a household he disrupted.

Love and respect between siblings is essential to a smoothly functioning home, so that is an important area of concern as your kids turn into teenagers. Remember that teenagers are naturally going to want (and need) to stretch their wings and have more space (physically, emotionally, mentally, socially). Your son may see his younger siblings as stepping on his rights or invading his space or privacy, or may see them as inconsequential compared to the things he's dealing with in life.

In order to restore him to a relationship of "big brother" to his younger brothers and sisters, you may have to find ways that you can give him special privileges (responsibilities, really) that he can use to benefit the younger siblings. Perhaps you can have him help a younger sibling with some schoolwork in a subject that Ben enjoys, and have him grade your younger child's work afterward (if you do grades in your homeschooling). Or, a few months down the road when he's 15 and he gets his driver's permit, you can allow him to drive often by using him as your chauffeur when you take the kids to their activities. Anything that you can think of that will work with your family that will get your son interacting in a positive way with the younger siblings will be good, especially if the activity also recognizes his special place in the family as the oldest kid.

As always, you will want to treat any name-calling, dis-respectfulness or other rule-breaking with the appropriate consequence. Consistency is so important. If you haven't been consistently applying rules, you will want to sit down with everyone as a family, have a family meeting and law out some rules and consequences together. Then you will be in a much better position to apply them when the time comes.

Do whatever you can to always be strengthening your relationship with your son so that he feels like he can talk and be honest (even about negative feelings), rather than lashing out. A teen who feels understood, feels good - even when they feel bad.

Good luck, and happy parenting!

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