Inside: Teenage backtalk can be tough to manage as a parent, particularly if you are sensitive. Here are a few ways to reframe the situation and get a handle on it.
Teenagers often test boundaries through disrespectful behavior
I’m not sure what the hardest part is about raising teenagers. The answer is probably different for every parent. But I’ve learned something valuable about the hard part of dealing with their hurtful behaviors.
You know, behaviors like angsty teenage backtalk at every interaction, snarky responses to our genuine questions, judgments about our well-meaning actions, and the seemingly overnight transition into someone who appears to despise our very existence.
I don’t care how many people warn us about this impending stage; nothing prepares our mom heart for the confusion and hurt that washes up onto the shore of our soul.
I mean, how is it that all the love we have poured into our child from day one— the love they have always welcomed with open arms, suddenly becomes an aggravation and intrusion and source of frustration? How is it that basic questions and requests of them are now acts of war that result in back talk and name-calling? When did we become the worst person on the planet when just yesterday we were their everything?
All we have to do is think back to when we were teens to find the answers.
Teens disrespectfully talk back to their parents for a wide variety of reasons.
It won’t take us long to remember how much we were dealing with internally when we were adolescents. Insecurity, confusion, rejection, shame, and loneliness are just a few of the everyday emotions we dealt with while trying to find our way. We wanted nothing more than to belong and to be seen by our peers. To fit in, be enough, and have value. Meanwhile, unruly hormones had their way with us, adding to the daily mix of emotional Armageddon.
If you can’t remember how complicated you felt as a teen, here’s a reminder of a few reasons you may be experiencing teenage backtalk in your house:
- Adolescent brains are still developing, so verbal self-control can be challenging (or nonexistent in some circumstances.)
- Teens often think they can change your mind or wear you down with their antics.
- They might want to test limits and boundaries.
- Your teen might be going through something in their own life and taking it out on you.
- Teens might be seeking attention or be frustrated that your attention is elsewhere (new baby, health issues with another family member taking up time, sending a sibling off to college.)
If you work hard to think back and remember that you were dealing with the same mess of feelings—all of us trying to stumble our way through the turmoil, it’s no wonder we struggled to find balance and normalcy and acceptance for who we were, as is.
Like our teens, the upheaval and challenges we faced in our daily lives ignited our poor behaviors and hurtful actions toward our parents. They couldn’t possibly understand us when we couldn’t understand ourselves.
You have to put yourself in your teen’s shoes to deal with their poor behavior
The aha moment for me was remembering that my teens were also dealing with these same debilitating emotions as I did when I was there age.
Then, I recognized that I was actually mirroring similar emotions as a mom.
Sobering. And so very human.
When my kids lashed out with disrespect, said very hurtful things, or rejected my love, a slow stream of insecurity, confusion, shame, and unworthiness started to trickle out of my veins.
I wanted nothing more than to feel like I still belonged in their world and longed to be seen by my child. I wanted to be enough for them and to have value as their mother.
We all do. That’s the calling card of motherhood.
It’s no wonder the teenage years are wrought with so much tension and inner anguish for parents and children. We are literally walking in each other’s shoes, yet everything feels like we are miles apart. What a paradox.
It starts with taking a deep breath
So, to save us both, I made a mental shift to see my teens as lost souls trying to make sense of a raging sea of uncertainty. Then I gave myself similar grace as I learned to swim in the same murky water.
One of us has to stop identifying our worth based on the behavior of others. And it’s unlikely to be our teens because they are surrounded by peers who are all measuring themselves up against one another. That’s the only thing they know how to do in the trenches of becoming independent and figuring out who they are.
But we can show them another way by doing our best to remain rooted in the truth that we are valuable and worthy just as we are regardless of how our teens act and react toward us.
Of course, this is not to say we become doormats and let them get away with blatant disrespect. It’s just that we see through the meanness to the pain lurking underneath and try not to take their wrath personally.
Simple steps to take to end teenage backtalk and disrespect
When I was dealing with one of my teens challenging behaviors, I kept these five things in mind:
- Set basic ground rules for respectful communication. We created some boundaries that were put in place to guide our behaviors. This included no name-calling, yelling, and excessively rude behavior.
- Take a pause. When things got heated, I would try to take a moment to collect myself, or encourage my kids to do the same. That meant taking a few deep breaths, counting to ten, or even walking away for a bit.
- Don’t engage with certain behaviors and teenage backtalk. I tried to ignore a snarky mumble or some eye rolling. There was just no need to acknowledge it or even let my teen know that I cared. Some negative behaviors are just silly, so I tried to focus on the disagreement instead of some of their immaturity.
- Follow through. This one was tough for me, but when my teens were excessively rude or broke our house rules, I did follow through with negative consequences, which usually meant they lost a certain privilege or had some additional responsibilities around the house. Punishment does not always work, but if you say there is a consequence, you need to follow through.
- Focus on problem-solving skills instead of nagging. Once we had a family meeting and found out that my teens didn’t want a lecture every time I asked them to do a chore, and I did recognize that I rode them a bit until they got it done. So we agreed that I would write out a list of what they need to do and they could just check it off by the end of the week. I had to accept that they would get it done–even if it was down to the last second–and they had some self-accountability.
Accept that your relationship with your teen won’t be perfect
I wish I could say that this new way of looking at things made everything easier for me. The truth is, my kids still lash out and say hurtful things at times, even though they are in their 20s, and the sting still hurts. A lot. But the turnaround time on my heartbreak is much better.
The other truth is I still act out sometimes even though I’m two months shy of 50. Fear has a way of bringing out the worst in us. The good news is, love has a way of bringing out the best.
May we all do our best to survive the changing tides and find the strength to remain calm and hine on through the heartache, knowing and trusting that at some point, our teens will push through these waves and find their way to the shore of our love again.
This was a contributed post from Shelby Spear. Shelby is a sappy soul whisperer, sarcasm aficionado, pro-LOVE Jesus adoring mom of 3 Millennials writing stuff & doing life w/ hubs of 25 yrs. She is the co-author of the book, How Are You Feeling, Momma? (You don’t need to say, “I’m fine.”) You can read her open heart about the revelations, screw-ups, gaffes, and joys of motherhood on her blog shelbyspear.com, around the web, and in print at Guideposts.
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