“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.”

This entry was posted in Parenting and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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

  1. Julie says:

    My son is 20, but we are having a great deal of trouble with his selfish behavior. He stays at home and commutes to school, and this summer he is basically just doing what he wants (although he does have a part time job) and getting angry and impatient if we ask for help around the house. He doesn’t respond to his grandfather’s appeals for visits, he often speaks disrespectfully, and he has a very short fuse. He is always willing to accept gifts and the generosity of others, but doesn’t make much effort to say thank you (or downplays his thank yous, saying them in a cartoon voice). He does not say words of love, nor does he ever offer positive affirmation to anyone. If I complain about this, he says I am a “martyr” and “focused on myself.” He is highly critical of other people and talks about all of our extended family members behind their backs (and yes, I always protest when he does this).

    He swears often even though he knows I don’t like it. He blames other people when confronted about his own attitude. He is highly sensitive about being confronted but almost always calls other people names and speaks harshly of them.

    He definitely has a good side and can be very funny and entertaining. However, today I had such a negative encounter with him, in which he demanded something from us to which he felt he was entitled, but correspondingly has done very little for us this whole summer, that I ended up feeling depressed, as though I had failed as a parent. My husband and I like to think we are good role models; neither of us drink or smoke (in fact, my husband gave up both of these habits for health reasons), we don’t swear, we’re not abusive, we raised our children in a faith community, and we try to do things that model other-centered behavior. We are not particularly demanding of our children, but we do ask them to be kind, and it’s his lack of kindness that bothers me most of all.

    Any feedback you can offer would be helpful.

    • Alison says:

      Hello Julie,

      This is a common situation, although a painful one. I believe your son resents you because he is an adult yet he is dependent on you, and life has been quite easy. He will probably turn out fine in the end (unless he has always been rude and selfish.) What he needs is more independence, yet he can’t pay for it. I think the best alternative would be for you to give him just enough money to pay for a small room or small basic apartment while he’s finishing school and let him earn the money to pay for food, or give him $40 a week for food. (There’s an article on the internet the shows how a college student can buy decent food for $40-$60 a week.) You may not want to pay money for him to live elsewhere when he could live at home for free. But he would gain self-respect, respect for you, and respect for other people.

      You could be very honest with him, and make sure he knows that this is not a punishment. It’s a gift. You can say that you love him, but you are dismayed by his lack of generosity, his criticisms, and his apparent resentment. It’s clear that he needs separation. It is your home, and you don’t want to have anyone in your home who is rude or critical. You understand that at 20 he would feel resentment at being dependent on you. You have decided that for YOUR OWN SAKES as well as his, that you would like him to live on his own. Make sure that you state that you are not interested in being criticized and taken for granted but that you know he is better than he has been behaving. So you are willing to pay something ($200 or $600??) a month for him to find a room for two years if he decides to finish college. Ask him to find a place in the next month. If you don’t want to pay for this, then call it a loan, and see if he’ll pay you back. Saving money while allowing him in his early 20s, when his prefrontal cortex is developing, to remain dependent, mean and resentful, is a terrible waste of that saved money. This is the time when young men should be challenged (living on their own, meeting daily challenges (more than simply school), trying to earn money to cook their own meals, and as a result becoming grateful for their families.

      Once he’s on his own, I guarantee he will appreciate a once a week or every two week dinner at your house. At the beginning, I would not check in on him too much. After he feels a bit more separate, he will gradually become more kind, IF you don’t mollycoddle him.

      I’m leaving town for a couple of days, and can’t respond more fully right now. But I’d be glad to answer more questions in couple of days.

      Best of luck. Also, you might enjoy seeing the movie “Failure to Launch,” although the circumstances are quite different.

      Alison

      • Julie says:

        Thanks, Alison–I appreciate your feedback! This sounds like an excellent idea, and I’d actually love to give him the gift of some geographical independence, but the reason he’s not dorming at school is that we have limited money, and basically have not much left after we pay bills twice a month. There is no such thing as 600 “extra” dollars. Whatever money doesn’t go toward bills heads to his tuition payment.

        I agree that a little distance would probably help a lot of things, especially because our house is small.

        • Alison says:

          Too bad. I would highly recommend finding a way for him to live elsewhere. Talk to him about it. Maybe he can do chores for an elderly person in exchange for a room. I think that even talking to him about finding another place to live for him to become more of an adult, and for you all to not have to deal with unwarranted criticism and rudeness, might help him see his situation as aa fortunate situation rather than one that he’s entitled to. Only through separation and working for his lodging and food will he gain self-respect and appreciation for others. Good luck!

        • Alison says:

          PS I would also ask him to do more chores, and I would let him cook his own meals or cook for everyone and clean up. Do less for him but without being nasty about it.

    • Alison says:

      PS Or, figure out how much you are spending on your son while he lives at home, and then make that money available to him to live on his own. The key is to explain honestly but neutrally, with good intentions, that this would be best for everyone. Not only will this make him a better person, you will be role-modeling appropriate boundaries. Who in their right mind would allow an entitled, rude, critical person to live in their home for free, right?

      He is 20. You may think of him as a child but we have 18 year olds fighting wars. He doesn’t feel good about himself because he is remaining in the position of a child. Yet he’s too comfortable and afraid to change the situation. SO you can help him out in a compassionate definite way.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Pingback: Angry Adult Child: “The years of terror from my mother has made me be sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love

  5. Pingback: Angry Adult Child: “The years of terror from my mother has made me be sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love

  6. Pingback: Angry Adult Child: “The years of terror from my mother has made me be sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love

  7. Pingback: Angry Adult Child: “The years of terror from my mother has made me be sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love

  8. Pingback: Angry Adult Child: “The years of terror from my mother has made me be sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love

  9. Pingback: Angry Adult Child: “The years of terror from my mother has made me be sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love

  10. Pingback: Angry Adult Child: “The years of terror from my mother has made me be sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love

  11. Pingback: Angry Adult Child: “The years of terror from my mother has made me be sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love

  12. Pingback: Angry Adult Child: “The years of terror from my mother has made me be sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love

  13. Pingback: Angry Adult Child: “The years of terror from my mother has made me be sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love

  14. Pingback: Angry Adult Child: “The years of terror from my mother has made me be sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love

  15. Pingback: Angry Adult Child: “The years of terror from my mother has made me be sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love

  16. Pingback: Angry Adult Child: “The years of terror from my mother has made me be sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love

  17. Pingback: Angry Adult Child: “The years of terror from my mother has made me be sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love

  18. Pingback: Angry Adult Child: “The years of terror from my mother has made me be sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love

  19. Pingback: Angry Adult Child: “The years of terror from my mother has made me be sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *