“My teenager is selfish and rude! How did I raise a child like this?”

"Just a Blur" — Franz Klammer by Mimi Stuart
Live the Life you Desire

Teenage rudeness is a normal attempt to separate from the parent. Teenagers respond to what they perceive as overly-involved behavior by pushing the parent away. A parent may not think he or she is overly involved, but teenagers are very sensitive to even the most minor hints and suggestions, often seeing them as controlling and manipulative. Sometimes feelings of being controlled are related to how strongly attached a child feels to the parent.

The basic conflict between teenagers and parents revolves around the parent’s desire to protect the child versus the teen’s desire for autonomy. On the one hand, parents want to make sure their children don’t get hurt and tend to take care of them as they did when they were younger. It is difficult to gradually let go and risk seeing your child make mistakes or get hurt.

On the other hand, children gradually become more autonomous and capable. They want and need to make more of their own decisions and mistakes — age-appropriately of course. This desire for autonomy, in addition to adolescent hormones and school and social pressures, causes them to react with strong emotions.

Rudeness is a rudimentary attempt to gain independence and demonstrates that the teenager feels fairly secure that the parent won’t become overly punitive — not a bad thing.

In contrast, in the presence of a cold or neglectful parent, teenagers may not feel so secure. Instead of feeling the need to separate, they might feel defeated in their longing for more togetherness.

When teenagers become rude, it may be a sign that the parent should become more detached. Detachment does not mean becoming overly permissive and it does not mean not caring. It means not getting overly-involved emotionally. A parent can be concerned and detached by eliminating reactivity and the appearance of urgency.

A parent needs to increasingly resist micro managing and hovering over a teen as a child grows up. While it’s important to be there for guidance, emergencies, and setting boundaries, parents should refrain from being reactive to the teenager’s intense emotions of outrage and grief. Rather than jumping in trying to solve their problems or, alternatively, trying to minimize their emotions, remaining calm will benefit the teen. If the teen is open to engagement, instead of hastily giving your opinion, ask questions, such as, “What do you think about the situation?”

In addition to becoming more detached, the parent can suggest more effective ways to criticize, withdraw, or ask for more independence. “Instead of slamming the door, just say that you need some time alone.” “Instead of rolling your eyes and saying, ‘What do you need to know that for?!’ just tell me that you’d rather not talk about it.” They may not say so, but they will appreciate your recognition of their need to set boundaries.

Overly strict expectations, with no room for the emotional inexperience of adolescence, will backfire. If you expect your teen to never roll her eyes at you or melt down after a bad day at school, you will find yourself criticizing and nagging constantly, and your teen will withdraw or rebel or take her behavior underground.

~Wendy Mogel, PhD, Author of “The Blessing of a B Minus”

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Recommended Reading: “The Blessing of a B Minus” by Wendy Mogel, PhD

Read “Parenting to strictly: ‘Because I said so!’”

Read “Setting Boundaries.”

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19 Responses to “My teenager is selfish and rude! How did I raise a child like this?”

  1. katherine says:

    Hi, in response to your blog on teenage rudeness and the need for autonomy, I am curious how you would reconcile what you say in your “about” section
    quote “The basis of healthy relationships is mutual respect. Mutual respect involves not only respecting other people, but respecting yourself by learning to take care of your own needs and desires in a positive way” when my teenager is rude and disrespectful to me. This morning for example, on her first day of school, I went to say goodbye to her as she was leaving, she didn’t respond when I called her name, and as I was about to say, “have a good day,” she erupted and said, “just go back to bed,” and slammed the door in my face. I can set boundaries by telling her, ” I do not want you to speak to me so rudely and disrespectfull. It makes me mad when you do.” BUT the behaviour is not changed. She will modify for a time in response to having consequences to repeated behaviour but she does not change and she is not willing to talk about her frustrations except to say, “you are annoying…just leave me alone..you don’t have to be in my life at all” other times, of course, she is sweet, compliant, affectionate, etc.
    I don’t treat her the way she treats me. I understand about letting her have autonomy but how do you set boundaries and establish mutual respect when the other person repeated violates your boundaries?

    • Alison says:

      Thank you for writing.

      I would definitely call my child on a comment like “just go back to bed” or even simply ignoring me as a parent. I would not let that slide.

      Sometimes children are distracted and don’t hear their name being called. But if they purposely ignore you, I would say, “Don’t ignore me when I call your name. If something is bothering you, tell me. Ignoring people only makes relationships worse.”

      Slamming the door and saying something like “just go back to bed” is very rude and full of contempt. I would say, “Don’t ever speak to me with such contempt. If something is wrong or you have a problem with me, you can tell me, but do it directly and with respect.” While you don’t have to become contemptuous yourself, it’s important to drop the sweetness and to show some seriousness and personal power, while being ready to be compassionate if there is an apology or explanation. Do not extend privileges or try to buy friendliness when they are behaving like this. That just lowers their respect even more for the parent

      If this continues, I would tell your child that you will be seeking joint counseling (at school or somewhere) because you are not willing to be treated so disrespectfully and that you are not being a good parent and doing her any favors by letting her behave that way.

      A little grumpiness and irritability is understandable in a teenager with all the social pressures and hormones, but real rudeness and slamming of doors has to be addressed with seriousness and a bit of compassion. For instance, “I know high school (middle school) is hard and you may have a lot going on, but it is not okay to treat me this way.” Teenagers usually feel worse about themselves when they are allowed to walk all over their parents. They actually feel more secure when they sense that their parents have some inner strength (not brutality though.)

      Good luck to you. It is hard.

  2. John says:

    A don’t ever want to have problems with my teens regarding issues on defiance and disobedience. I was able to solve this problem when I ran across various articles that deal with the issue. I got a few tips from here and there. I did all I can to follow those tips and to my surprise they were effective.

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