There is nothing like blatant disrespect to get your head spinning. When your tween to teen talks back rudely, and tells you that you are a stupid jerk, most of us go a bit ballistic. And both teachers and parents experience a growing percentage of our youth who speak this way to adults.
Yet, in many ways, this trend should not surprise us. Young children tweens are consuming TV shows and movies, as well as YouTube videos, with content depicting parents as idiots and kids, with ‘attitude,’ as supremely wiser and always ahead of adults. Also, many young children are allowed exposure to music that is filled with the intense judgement of adults and authority figures.
It gets even worse. Many of us start to see this ‘attitude’ show up in our first graders, with a bit of sassiness and talking back. Perhaps because it’s mild, or perhaps because more widely accepted, we just go on with business as usual. Early on, it’s often not severe, but it’s a problem. And over time, this will get worse.
The Two Big Mistakes with Disrespect
1. Power Tactics Will Fail.
The biggest mistake made with disrespect is that we react harshly, get upset, and snap back. We will threaten and yell, to demonstrate that ‘I am the parent here…and you cannot speak to me that way.’ (Yet, the child has already spoken.)
Let’s imagine we punish them, which seems reasonable. Yet, over and over again, this doesn’t seem to change a habit of disrespect. Why is this?
The power tactic demonstrates a flaw. We just got hooked, and our reaction shows it. For many children and teens, that reaction teaches them that they can ‘own’ our emotions…with just a few disrespectful words. This is power, and we have just given it to our children! Once we do this, it seems that the consequences have limited effect for many kids.
2. ‘Business As Usual’ Will Also Fail.
If we just go on about our normal daily business, being a good parent and responding to disrespectful comments as if it is okay, then this fails as well. In this situation, kids learn to speak to parents in ugly and demanding ways, and still get what they want. You do not want to assume that this is just the trend this day and time, and go on offering your child an exception life, while they are rude and disrespectful to you. This is never a good plan.
Four Essentials to Winning the War on Disrespect
1. Take it Seriously…Not Personally.
This is an essential component of success with disrespect. It is important to have a game plan and to take that plan seriously. But do not take your child’s moment of attitude or disrespect personally. You do not want to teach them that such ugly words are worthy of your attention and energy. This will confuse their minds. And as mentioned above, with the passing years, they will learn that they have tremendous power to upset your life, with just a few choice words said in a sassy manner.
Perhaps equally important here is this: When you take it personally, you WILL engage your child. Every time you engage a pattern of behavior, you endorse it. That’s right! If you repeatedly engage the behavior, your attention and energy serve to reinforce the behavior.
It doesn’t matter what your words are at the moment of your engagement. IT only matters that you engage the disrespect while it’s happening. This leads us to the second key point…
2. Don’t Try to Fix the Moment of Disrespect
If you get hooked by the moment, you engage and feed it. Remember…this will only lead to failure and more disrespect. Many parents tell me, “But I can’t tolerate them being disrespectful to me. I have to react!”
This approach is fine, as long you want more and more disrespect in the years ahead.
But, if you want to eliminate disrespect, don’t try to fix or correct the disrespect at THAT moment. Instead…walk away from it. Show them how the healthy, wise world will respond to ugliness and disrespect by walking away. The healthy world understands you cannot force others to be respectful. But you can walk away, and find those who treat you respectfully. This is wise, and important to teach our children and teens.
It’s also critical to get this…
3. Don’t Conform or Respond to Any Disrespect in Any Way.
Thus, when your children demand that you find their hockey stick, or to go buy another cell phone or take them to a friends house, simply do not respond, when there is a demanding or disrespectful tone or attitude. Don’t agree or disagree. Just walk away.
Develop the habit of not only staying calm and happy as you walk away but also do not honor the demands that come with this ugliness and attitude. Too often I hear a tween at Starbucks, barely looking up from their phone as they complain at mom because she didn’t know what they wanted, and give a snarky response to the kind barista. In this case, if I were mom, I would close out the order without giving the snarky child a drink or a moment of my time. Remember: No response. No accommodation to demands or disrespectful requests.
4. And Finally, Abuse It … Lose It.
As tweens and teens fall in love with their amazing communication device (i.e., cell phone), this provides an excellent teaching tool to eliminate disrespect. I explain to kids, that their mouth is an amazing communication device, just like the phone. I then demonstrate Mom and Dad’s new rule: ‘Abuse this’ (point to mouth), then ‘You lose this’ (point to phone). I suggest a minimum of 24 hours per incident, adding an hour for every complaint that follows the consequence.
If you spend just a couple hours learning how to shut down your child’s phone with a techie, then you see how you can honor this entire formula. You stop talking to disrespect, and you never give in to any of the demands or requests from a snarky, disrespectful child. And…as they get older…you have an immediate consequence: you shut down their phone instantly. If you bring these tools together, you will have success and a much more respectful home!