Q: Should I Punish (or Ignore) My Teen’s Disrespectful, Snarky Behavior?
“When the parent-child relationship gets to this point, the primary focus should be on rebuilding connection and creating positive moments. This process can take a considerable amount of time, as parents have to think hard about genuine, neutral ways they can spend time and engage with their teen – without these moments turning negative.”
Q: “How do I deal with a disrespectful teenager? My son often hurls mean, snarky comments our way with no restraint. Most of our interactions end in shouting matches, where he doesn’t hesitate to say that he ‘hates’ me. How can we make things better?”
When I work with families like yours in behavioral parent training – a therapy designed to improve a child’s behaviors – we always start by drawing the line between normal teenage attitudes and unhealthy behaviors that actually impair family functioning and need to be improved.
When the parent-teen relationship gets to this point, the primary focus should be on rebuilding connection and creating positive moments. This process can take a considerable amount of time, as parents have to think hard about genuine, neutral ways they can spend time and engage with their teen – without these moments turning negative, as seems to be the prevailing pattern for your family at the moment.
Some suggestions for you to cultivate these moments with your son:
- Follow his lead in an activity he enjoys
- Avoid critical comments, no matter the degree, in these interactions
- Provide genuine compliments (if it doesn’t feel natural, it will with enough practice)
- Steer clear from “reminders” of things your child needs to do, like clean their room or do their homework
- Be present
In searching for quality time with your son, do your best to ignore his snarky comments and sour attitudes in the beginning. In these initial rapport-building stages, model how you’d like your interactions to go and avoid losing your own cool. Parents often find, almost miraculously, that setting the example can help their teen rediscover the polite person they might have been in the past or with other people.
If disrespectful attitudes and snark persist, even after you’ve genuinely tried to connect with your teen on multiple fronts and modeled desired behaviors, that’s when you can start to think about connecting privileges to better behaviors.
You may say to him that his behaviors may affect his allowance, your willingness to allow him out, his access to activities he likes, and so on. When and if you do this, you must be specific about the behaviors you’d like to see from him so that he can see the pathway to success. You may say, for example, that if your family can engage in three conversations this week where all parties keep a calm voice, one privilege will be unlocked. Notice in this example that there’s no mention of attitude – there will never be a single strategy to fix your child’s (or anyone’s) “bad” attitude in one go. The pathway to better, positive behaviors starts small and takes time.
Disrespectful Teenager: Next Steps
- ADHD Symptoms in Teens: Your Guide to Warning Signs & Treatments for Adolescents
- Read: Reframe Your Teen’s Bad Behavior With “Unconditional Parenting”
- Blog: 10 Terrible Reactions to ADHD Teen Drama — and Healthier Ways to Communicate at Home
The content for this article was derived from the ADDitude Expert Webinar “Discipline Strategies for ADHD: How to Manage Your Child’s Most Challenging Behaviors” [Video Replay & Podcast #346] with David Anderson, Ph.D., which was broadcast live on March 2, 2021.
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Updated on May 24, 2021