If you are a parent of a young teen, you know all too well what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that attitude. The cute little child who once saw you as the source of all wisdom now cuts you off in mid-conversation with utterances such as “Why do I bother explaining things to you? You can’t possibly understand,” and “I can’t believe you don’t know this. I thought everyone knew that.” And, as if what you don’t know isn’t enough, the young teen now begins questioning everything that comes out of your mouth.
It’s easy for a parent to lose patience when a child starts mouthing off this way. None of us enjoys being treated disrespectfully or having to justify everything we say. Back talk is also disturbing because it signifies your loss of control over your child’s behavior.
But as inappropriate and disrespectful as a young teen’s language might be, it’s actually a step toward mature behavior. Learning to assert individual opinions is a developmental milestone every bit as significant (and universal) as cutting teeth or learning to walk. As annoying as this stage in your child’s life can be at times, there is no way you can absolutely abolish back talk. There are, however, a number of ways to provide constructive outlets for your child to vent frustrations, opinions, and emotions.
1. Begin by understanding why your child needs to talk back. Her “smart mouth” is, in some ways, exactly that — a sign that she’s smarter. Her logic is growing more sophisticated, although it’s not quite up to an adult level yet. She now sees her parents’ opinions, once regarded as the absolute truth, as one possible truth.
2. Don’t belittle your child. In the heat of the moment when the young teen talks back, it’s easy to attack the child by slinging words that wound the child. “You’re stupid or ignorant” or “I can’t believe such a foolish thought is coming from your mouth” or “Where did you come up with that one?” may help you vent your frustration, but assaults your child’s self esteem. No matter how tempting, don’t belittle.
3. Set limits on profanity. Unfortunately, many young teens use profanity because they have heard it from adults and believe that using such words makes them more mature. Seek to teach them that movement toward maturity is movement away from profanity. Even though there may be heated disagreements on a number of significant issues, teach your child by your example that profanity does not enhance any argument.
4. Stick to your values. The young teen is sorting through a confusing array of values from peers, teachers, movies, church, music and hundreds of other sources. Recognize that you are still the single most important influence in your child’s life. You may seriously doubt this reality when your young teen is obnoxiously mouthing off to you, but in the long run, how you live your life and the values you hold firm to will be the strongest and most important influence in your child’s life.
5. Give your child credit when she is right. Occasionally, you will be wrong and because of her growing awareness, she may win an argument or debate because either she knows more or she has a perspective that is new to you. When your young teen makes a good point, acknowledge and affirm her.
Applying these five points certainly isn’t easy. Doing so demands patience and wisdom. Be patient. Be wise. Remember, in only seven short years your young teen will be absolutely amazed how much you have learned.