If you’re a parent of a teen, then you’ve most likely had your teen talk back to you at some point in your relationship. But if your teen keeps talking back to you and on a more frequent basis, then you might be wondering, “why do they keep talking back to me?” and “what do I do?”
This article will help you understand why teens might talk back. It will also provide you with some tips on handling when your teen talks back in a disrespectful way.
If your teen continues to act out and is threatening to you and your family, consider getting help from a team of mental and behavioral health professionals.
Why troubled teens talk back (in a disrespectful tone)
Troubled teens may talkback for a variety of reasons. Here are just some of the reasons that teens might talk back and disrespectfully.
Your troubled teen feels misunderstood
Troubled teens often talk back when they feel misunderstood. For example, if your teen talks a lot about being bored, empty, or feeling like “there’s nothing to do,” especially with the pandemic going on right now, then you might ask them follow-up questions.
Questions like, “what’s making you feel so bored” or “what can we do so that you don’t feel this way” can be great conversation starters to helping your teen understand that you do care about them. It also makes your teen feel like you care to find out how they’re feeling.
You and your teen are vying for power or control
Sometimes, parents and teens can create a power-struggle when there need not be one. For instance, talking to your teen about the chores that need to get done can empower activity rather than a demand if you set the right tone.
The best way to set the right tone is by engaging in chores that need to be done. What this means is that you’re modeling for them what you would like to see them do. You’re not just telling them what to do.
You’re focusing on your teen’s negative behaviors
When your teen feels like you’re harping their negative behaviors, they may engage in those behaviors more. For one, your teen might not be aware of any positive behaviors they do since you’re only focusing on the negatives. Another reason may be because some attention is better than no attention.
Simple things like praising them for doing their chores or doing something that you’re happy with can help your teen understand what you expect from them. It can also build a stronger bond between you and your teen.
Your troubled teen may act out because of substance abuse or mental illness
Substance abuse or mental illness is also an underlying cause of teens acting out. Teens who struggle with substances like marijuana or prescription drug abuse might feel more irritable and agitated. Understanding if there’s an underlying substance abuse factor is important to helping your teen.
Likewise, your teen might have an underlying mental illness like borderline personality disorder or a neurodevelopmental disorder like autism that makes them feel irritable and misunderstood.
How To Help Your Teen Who Struggles With Talking Back
There are many ways you can help your teen who struggles with talking back in a disrespectful way. Some of the tips below are strategies used by mental and behavioral health professionals to help teens who are disrespectful and sometimes threatening.
1. Talk to your teen about boundaries
Sometimes, your troubled teen might not be aware of your boundaries. By communicating with your teen about what matters to you, you help them understand what you expect from them. For instance, you might communicate boundaries related to social media, privacy, and academics.
This might look like telling your teen, “for me, it’s very important that you pass your classes with a B or higher. If you feel like you aren’t able to do this, then let me know early on rather than seeing your report card showing otherwise.”
As you communicate your boundaries, allow your teen to express their needs and wishes. Encourage your teen to be honest with you. For instance, if they tell you, “I struggle with math, dad, so I don’t think that I can get a B.” Then talk to them about the options they have to reach the expectations that you have for them. The goal of having a conversation about boundaries is to make expectations more transparent for you and your family.
Since the focus is on disrespectful back talk, consider communicating clear expectations for communication etiquette. For instance, “you may not use any expletives if you’re upset.”
2. Stick to your boundaries
Once you’ve set boundaries with your teen and the rest of your family, then remain firm in your boundaries. Many researchers have found that teens tend to thrive in environments where there are routines and structure.
In the book, Fostering Resilient Learners, therapist Kristin Souers and principal Pete Hall describe how having familiar routines and behavioral reinforcements are important to teens.
So, if you’ve communicated your expectations for appropriate communication, then remain firm in having your teen follow through with that expectation (while recognizing that they’re human and might make mistakes!).
3. Have consequences
It’s very important to have consequences for boundary violations. For example, if they use an expletive, then have a consequence set in place for that behavior.
Make sure the consequence fits the boundary that being violated and are not extreme.
4. Reward positive behaviors
Finally, as we mentioned in the beginning, instead of focusing on behaviors that you don’t want, focus on behaviors you’d like to see more of in your teen. Reward them for things you do like completing chores, doing their homework, and doing their best.
The more you focus on positive behaviors, the more likely your teen will engage in those behaviors.
When you’ve tried everything and nothing is working
If you’ve tried these strategies and nothing’s working, then consider getting help from a team of behavioral and mental health professionals.
At Help Your Teen Now, we can help you find the right residential treatment center for you and your teen. At the center that you choose, with the help of professionals, you and your family will be able to address your teen acting out.
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