My teenager is rude and disrespectful. What can I do?
Hi Elizabeth My son Jack, he’s defiant, rude, argumentative, naughty at school and basically no matter what the boundaries, he pushes them. I’ve tried everything I can think of, I’ve even had behavioural services round before he went to secondary school, but to be honest we are no further forward. He doesn’t work very hard at school, does the minimum, doesn’t put much effort into his homework (if he does it). He rarely would do as his told first time, he would go out of his way to be awkward, doesn’t comply with basic responsibilities on his own accord, like picking up clothes etc, drinking water even!! He just simply refuses to comply and makes the whole house a misery. He’s only been back at school for not even 2 weeks and I’ve had a mail this morning saying his teacher wants to talk to me about his defiance and attitude. He doesn’t care whose there when he has an outburst, only a couple of weeks ago he literally squared up to me shouting and rude in my face right in front of all our friends. He might be sorry afterwards, but I’ve had enough. I think he should have serious sanctions, but my husband does not believe this works, which really is not helping the situation. My son exploits this to full advantage, so if I say no he will go and ask his father for the same thing knowing he will get a better outcome. Because his behaviour is bad outside and inside the home I find it very stressful and am struggling to cope with it. It’s the start of his GCSE year and he committed to trying hard, it would all be different when he went back, but it never ever is. I just don’t know where to go next. Denise
Thank you for writing. You are clearly trying to do your best for Jack, but are at a loss at how to motivate him and deal with his angry outbursts. Here are a few thoughts that might help.
- Spend time listening to Jack, whenever he is ready to talk. Sometimes poor behaviour at home is linked to something that is happening outside the home, such as bullying, pressure or friendship issues. Boys are often much more willing to open up sitting side-by-side in a car or when doing a task together than they are face to face.
- Often when teenagers are rude it is linked to a low self-esteem. So make sure that you are not nagging or criticising Jack. Instead start picking up on all the little things he does well every day like clearing the table, being nice to others or just being respectful. Mention all the good things you notice – but say it in a flat tone of voice or he may feel you are patronising him. So use little expressions like ‘Hey, Thanks for clearing away your breakfast things’ or ‘Well done for starting your homework, I know you don’t feel like it’
- Refuse to speak if Jack is being disrespectful. Say ‘I can’t have a conversation with you when you are talking like this. We can talk again when you have calmed down’ AND LEAVE THE ROOM. You do not have to stay to listen to any insults. When things have calmed down make sure you talk about what happened. Find out what was going on for him, but explain your feelings assertively ‘ I felt really hurt when you spoke to me in front of my friends like that. In future, I would like to you talk to me in private if you have a problem.
- Teenagers need boundaries, and you say that you and your husband differ in your approach to discipline. It is important to agree with your husband what rules you want for Jack. Decide what you both feel is fair, and you both may need to compromise a little. Then talk to Jack about the rules. If he feels strongly about something, and you are prepared to compromise, you can adjust the rule. But otherwise tell him that when he can show you that he is responsible around the rules you have set, then they can earn small adjustments to the rules. So say for example he wants to be able to stay out late with his friends. You tell him he needs to be home by 9.30pm, but say that if he can be home by 9.30 three times in a row, you will let them stay out till 10. If, after he has earned a later deadline, he then arrives home at 10.30, he loses the privilege and you revert back to 9.30pm.
- Decide what rewards you would like for good behaviour and what consequences there will be for bad behaviour. The best consequences are ‘natural consequences’ – things that follow on naturally from the poor behaviour. If he wastes your time, by not clearing up after himself you ask him to spend extra time helping you before he can go out. If he was rude again in front of your friends then he is not allowed friends round or to meet up with his friends for a week. Let Jack know what consequences will be in advance if possible. Of course he may do something completely unexpected and in that case tell them there will be consequences but you will need to think about what would be suitable. Once again involve your husband, and make sure that the consequence follows on logically from the misbehaviour.
- Don’t do things for Jack when he is rude. Just don’t do them. Don’t take him places, don’t give him pocket money, and don’t buy his favourite foods. Let him know that you will not be treated in that way.
- It is really important that Jack starts to help around the house. As a teenager he should be doing some jobs around the house for love, and he should be able to earn some money for doing extra jobs. The mistake many parents make is doing everything for their child. There is a saying ‘In no society is a slave ever respected!’ Running a home involves a lot of work, and teenagers should be helping out. You will need to get your husband on board for this. Draw up a list of all the jobs you do. You can either delegate one or two jobs to Jack or show him the list to and ask what he would like to do. Remember that when Jack leaves home he will need to be able to care for himself, so learning to cook, clean, shop, do his own washing, ironing and mending will be skills he needs for life. Maybe your Jack could vacuum the house and cook one meal a week for the family? Set which day he will cook, and ask if he wants to choose the meal he cooks. Or maybe he could help your husband with tasks he does. Teenagers who help at home have a much better self-esteem and are less likely to be bullied, so you will be doing Jack a favour by getting him involved.
- Find out more about assertiveness skills. When you are finding things difficult with Jack use the following sentence and fill in the blanks: ‘I feel… when….and I would like…..’ This helps to explain yourself without nagging.
- Stop doing things that are not effective with Jack – by this I mean nagging, criticising, arguing, preaching, judging, ordering, giving advice, threatening, name calling, ridiculing, reassuring, humouring, distracting, disagreeing and lecturing. Instead spend some time with him and listen to what is going on for him. Help him explore his problems by talking aloud and then get him to problem-solve and work out what he wants to do. Once again this is a life skill he will need when he leaves home. He won’t always have you to sort out his issues. He needs to learn how to sort out his own problems, and not to take out his frustrations on the people he lives with, or he will find it difficult when he does need to leave home and will affect how he treats any future partner.
- Sadly, at 14 Jack is now responsible for his own school work. If Jack decides not to work you cannot make him. It is his future life and career that will be affected by his decision not to do his school work. You can help him stay motivated by noticing all the positives, encouraging him to learn more about subjects he enjoys and asking him what you can do to help. But he has to see the value of working at school. It is good to have conversations about what you learned about working hard, particularly at family meal times. But no amount of pushing him is going to give him a work-ethic. If you need to go in to school, take Jack with you and involve him in the conversations about his behaviour. Let him know you would love to support him, but help him realise this is his issue – and his future.
- This last point is one for your husband. Boys need their Dads to give them guidelines and boundaries. I can tell your husband loves Jack, but clearly finds it difficult to stand up to him when he is rude or disrespectful. Jack needs a father figure – both to spend time with and to be strong enough to provide discipline when he needs it. Jack needs a man who can show him how to be a man. Your husband needs to be firm in what he expects from Jack and what behaviour is not acceptable. Boundaries should be seen as constructive and positive and not destructive. He needs to be a Dad – not a best friend. Jack needs a role model, so it is good if he and your husband can spend plenty of time together doing jobs around the house and doing fun things they both enjoy.
I hope that some of these points help, and I wish you all the best. If it is any consolation teenage boys do grow up and by the time they are about 17 things are usually much calmer and happier at home. Good luck with everything
All the best