R-E-S-P-E-C-T . . . anyone in my generation who reads those seven letters will recall Aretha Franklin’s heart-felt desire to be treated right, put to song. All of us have that need. Young and old alike, we long to be listened to and respected. Yet disrespect can suddenly appear in the teen years, so parents need to know how to stop it in its tracks.
Instead of an atmosphere of respect and admiration for their parents, as kids get older, slammed doors, loud voices, and biting remarks can become the norm. Or, passive disrespect can be displayed through turned backs, murmuring, silence, and that perennial teen favorite, the rolled eyes. Sometimes parents make the mistake of thinking that disrespect isn’t that serious, so they let it go on. But in fact, disrespect is a major sign of coming trouble. If not dealt with, it can undermine your relationship and your child’s future. So, with that in mind, let me share three simple concepts about the issue of respect to hopefully bring peace and quiet back to your home, and also prepare your teen for successful adulthood.
First, have a “zero tolerance” policy toward disrespect. That may seem harsh, but disrespect tends to grow as kids get away with it, so don’t let the seeds germinate. Respect is a basic building block of relationship, so without it, you simply cannot connect. And if you cannot connect, real problems will develop. It may be that you have allowed disrespect to go on unchecked in your home, thinking it is just a phase. If that is the case, then it’s time for a serious discussion with your teen. Pick a day when things are as close to normal as a home with a teenager in it can get. Make sure that you are in control of yourself when this conversation starts and go into it knowing your teen will try to push your buttons or want to leave.
You may want to start the conversation with something like this. “When someone does (name their form of disrespect) to me, I consider it disrespectful and it hurts me. It may be that I’m interpreting it wrong, and that’s not how you feel, but I am seeing this lately in how you respond to me. Has something I’ve done or not done upset you?” By starting that way you are sending two messages. First, you are saying that you recognize you may have some responsibility for the problem and second, that you are not judging your teen.
Understand what is causing the disrespect. Disrespect is rooted in something — it doesn’t just spring up from nowhere. When teens have something to say but don’t know how to express it, they may turn to explosions or other physical expressions of their frustration. In other words, instead of talking it out, they will act it out. Your child has limited means of responding to a provocation. If they feel that their words don’t work, they may resort to other measures to get your attention. Your goal is to find out what it is that’s frustrating them.
Could you be a step parent that’s never gotten the respect of your step kids? If so, it’s probably not your fault. The fact that you are in the home versus the child’s birth parent can be enough provocation to foment disrespect in them. Every time they see you they can feel a sense of loss, especially if the family split took place in the teen years. Or, perhaps your child has had another loss in her life, has lost respect for you because of something you have done or not done, or maybe she is being bullied at school. Sometimes kids don’t even know when they are being disrespectful — they are just venting or echoing what they heard their peers say to their parents.
In any event, let me make it clear to you, and you need to make it clear to your child, that disrespectful behavior — words, actions and attitudes — is never acceptable. You can have disagreements, disappointments, and diametrically opposing opinions, but it is never a reason for disrespect from them, nor from you toward them.
Apologize if you are partly at fault. Is it possible that you are provoking your child to wrath by not really listening to them? I find that a lot of frustration from teens comes from parents who are too slow to give them more freedoms. Are you treating your teen the way you did when he or she was ten? Are you making too many decisions for your teen and not letting them be their own person? Your teen may be feeling as though you are disrespecting them by “babying” them instead of recognizing their growing need to control their own life. They may see your inability to allow them to grow up as being just as disrespectful to them as they are now being to you. If so, you need to find out if you need to apologize to them.
As you talk to them, you may want to say something like this. “Have I done something or responded in a way that makes it hard for you to talk to me? I want to know your thoughts and feelings, and I want to hear from you.” They may mumble “Nothing” but don’t settle for that. On the other hand they may back the dump truck up and unload it. You may hear things like, “You lecture me all the time. You’re always correcting me. You just don’t listen. You don’t allow me to be myself. You treat me like a child.”
This critique may or may not be fully legitimate, (it may be more accurate than you want to admit — I know what that feels like) but you need to take responsibility for things you have done that contribute to the problem. If you are at least partly at fault, then apologize and say that things will be different. As the parent, you need to set the example of what treating someone with respect looks like. Respect starts with you. Ask your teen to identify when they feel you are being disrespectful to them, and tell them you will do the same to them. Have them practice the words, “I feel disrespected when you do that.” It so important for teens to understand their own feelings of disrespect, and to respond properly to it.
Leave less chance for disrespect to develop. To clarify things in your home and leave no chance for misunderstanding (which can lead to disrespect), it is also important to establish clear boundaries and the related consequences for overstepping them. When you come up with such a plan, show your teen respect by allowing them their input in the process. Stick to your guns about the important things (no more than ten, because just like the Ten Commandments, teens can only digest ten rules), but compromise about those things that are less important.
The very first boundary you come up with should be about maintaining respect in the home — respect for each other, for each others things, for privacy and for feelings. I think focusing on respect is one of the most important things you can do in your home, so consequences for disrespect should be pretty severe.
Another very important way to stop disrespect from getting a foothold is to be sure to have a weekly one-on-one meeting with your child. Go to a coffee house or restaurant in a quiet corner. Allow your teen to talk, and use lots of questions to reveal their frustrations. Spend most of your time just listening. If your teen feels like they are listened to, and respected for their opinions (no matter how weird or wacky their opinions are that day) then they will feel less frustrated and won’t resort to disrespect. For boys, sometimes it is best to do something with them or talk while driving in the car. Boys tend to talk more shoulder to shoulder, while girls tend to do better speaking face to face. Having a weekly meeting is perhaps the most important thing you can do to prevent disrespect in your home.
Confront it, then set the rule in motion. If the problem of disrespect has been going on for a while, confront it. Say to your teen, “We’re both going to stop. I’m going to stop this. You’re going to stop that. If you catch me disrespecting you, I’ll double your allowance for a month. If I catch you disrespecting to me, I’ll take away your allowance for a month.” Give them grace for past mistakes, but make sure the consequences for future expressions of disrespect are progressively more painful. Since this is such an important issue, other options for repeated occurrences may be to take away their cell phone or car privileges for a period of time.
Be bold and address the problem of disrespect; it won’t go away on its own. Remember, your teen doesn’t have to respect you to treat you with respect; the two are different, but feelings often follow action. Make sure your teen has the tools to communicate any frustrations in appropriate ways and make sure the lines of communication stay open with you. You may need to bring in outside help to deal with issues of respect of they have gone on too long. Sometime a neutral observer who isn’t emotionally involved can help both of you identify and resolve issues. If disrespect persists in your home, get help.
We talk about this issue in depth on our radio program this weekend called “Disrespect and Talking Back.” To listen online look for the program dated September 3, 2011 after it is released Saturday morning at http://www.parentingtodaysteens.org
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.
NEED HELP STOPPING THE DISRESPECT AND ANGER IN YOUR HOME?
If there’s chaos in your home, including disrespect, come learn from Mark how to bring peace. There’s still time to register and come to our September 8-10 Family in Crisis Retreat. To learn more, go to www.familycrisisretreat.com.