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