As a psychotherapist who works with teenagers, the question about getting teens to act respectful is a common question. Parents would like more respect, however, they are also very concerned how their teenager will treat teachers and other adults. Given today’s climate, where teenagers see the President acting disrespectfully to people daily on the news and Twitter with no consequences, the issue of respect has become more of a concern for parents. It is more of a concern because many teens feel they do not have to be respectful if adults are not acting respectfully. I have had teens tell me this and I agree that some adults are acting very disrespectful, but that does not give them permission to be disrespectful.
When parents ask me about respect, I tell them to start setting rules regarding respectful behavior with their children as soon as they are born. The earlier you start the more likely your teenager will act respectfully to others. I also remind parents that they must follow the guidelines they are setting for their children. Parents are role models and if you are not acting respectfully and consistently, your teenager will not respect your authority.
James Lehman, MSW approaches respect the same way that I approach it. I saw how he broke down the issues involved with teenagers being respectful so the topic is easier to understand and I am going to do the same thing.
1. Remember, Your Child Is Not Your Friend
It’s not about your child liking you or even thanking you for what you do. It’s important to remember that your child is not your friend—he’s your child. Your job is to coach him to be able to function in the world. This means teaching him to behave respectfully to others, not just you. When you think your child might be crossing the line, a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “Would I let the neighbor say these things to me? Would I let a stranger?” If the answer is no, don’t let your child do it, either. Someday when your child becomes an adult, your relationship may become more of a friendship, but for now, it’s your job to be his parent: his teacher, coach and limit setter—not the buddy who lets him get away with things.
2. Catch Disrespect Early and Plan Ahead If You Can
It’s good to catch disrespectful behavior early if possible. If your child is rude or disrespectful, don’t turn a blind eye. Intervene and say, “We don’t talk to each other that way in this family.” Giving consequences when your kids are younger is going to pay off in the long run. It’s really important as a parent if you see your child being disrespectful to admit it and then try to nip it in the bud. Also, if your child is about to enter the teen years (or another potentially difficult phase) think about the future. Some parents I know are already planning how they will address behavior as their ADD daughter (who is now 11) becomes a teenager. They’re learning skills to prepare for their interactions with her at a later time. This can only help them as they move forward together as a family.
3. Get in Alignment with Your Mate
It’s so important for you and your mate to be on the same page when it comes to your child’s behavior. Make sure one of you isn’t allowing the disrespectful behavior while the other is trying to intercede. Sit down together and talk about what your bottom lines are, and then come up with a plan of action—and a list of consequences you might give—if your child breaks the rules.
4. Teach Your Child Basic Social Interaction Skills
It may sound old fashioned, but it’s very important to teach your child basic manners like saying “please” and “thank you.” When your child deals with her teachers in school or gets her first job and has these skills to fall back on, it will really go a long way. Understand that using manners—just a simple “excuse me” or “thank you”—is also a form of empathy. It teaches your kids to respect others and acknowledge their impact on other people. When you think about it, disrespectful behavior is the opposite, negative side of being empathetic and having good manners.
5. Be Respectful When You Correct Your Child
When your child is being disrespectful, you as a parent need to correct them in a respectful manner. Yelling and getting upset and having your own attitude in response to theirs is not helpful and often only escalates behavior. The truth is, if you allow their disrespectful behavior to affect you, it’s difficult to be an effective teacher in that moment. You can pull your child aside and give them a clear message, for example. You don’t need to shout at them or embarrass them. One of our friends was excellent at this particular parenting skill. He would pull his kids aside, say something quietly (I usually had no idea what it was), and it usually changed their behavior immediately. Use these incidents as teachable moments by pulling your kids aside calmly, making your expectations firm and clear, and following through with consequences if necessary.
6. Try to Set Realistic Expectations for Your Kids Around Their Behavior
This may actually mean that you need to lower your expectations. Don’t plan a huge road trip with your kids, for example, if they don’t like to ride in the car. If your child has trouble in large groups and you plan an event for 30 people, you’re likely to set everyone up for disappointment and probably an argument!
If you are setting realistic expectations and you still think there might be some acting-out behaviors that crop up, set limits beforehand. For example, if you’re going to go out to dinner, be clear with your kids about what you expect of them. This will not only help the behavior but in some ways will help them feel safer. They will understand what is expected of them and will know what the consequences will be if they don’t meet those expectations. If they meet your goals, certainly give them credit, but also if they don’t, follow through on whatever consequences you’ve set up for them.
7. Clarify the Limits When Things Are Calm
When you’re in a situation where your child is disrespectful, that’s not the ideal time to do a lot of talking about limits or consequences. At a later time, you can talk with your child about his behavior and what your expectations are.
8. Talk About What Happened Afterward
If your child is disrespectful or rude, talk about what happened (later, when things are calm) and how it could have been dealt with differently. That’s a chance for you, as a parent, to listen to your child and hear what was going on with her when that behavior happened. Try to stay objective. You can say, “Pretend a video camera recorded the whole thing. What would I see?” This is also a perfect time to have your child describe what she could have done differently.
9. Don’t Take It Personally
One of the biggest mistakes parents can make is to take their child’s behavior personally. The truth is, you should never fall into that trap because the teenager next door is doing the same thing to his parents, and your cousin’s daughter is doing the same thing to her parents. Your role is to just deal with your child’s behavior as objectively as possible.
When parents don’t have effective ways to deal with these kinds of things, they may feel out of control and get scared—and often overreact or under react to the situation. When they overreact, they become too rigid, and when they under react, they ignore the behavior or tell themselves it’s “just a phase.” Either way, it won’t help your child learn to manage his thoughts or emotions more effectively, and it won’t teach him to be more respectful.
Understand that if you haven’t been able to intervene early with your kids, you can start at any time. Even if your child is constantly exhibiting disrespectful behavior, you can begin stepping in and setting those clear limits. Kids really do want limits, even if they protest loudly—and they will. The message that they get when you step in and set limits is that they’re cared about, they’re loved and that you really want them to be successful and able to function well in the world. Many teenagers complain that their parents do not set rules for them and they are upset. Besides making them feel loved, your rules help them make the right choices for themselves when they are facing issues such as drugs. Our kids won’t thank us now, but that’s okay—it’s not about getting them to thank us, it’s about doing the right thing. Hopefully, you find these suggestions helpful. If you want me to explain more or if you have concerns regarding a different topic, please leave a comment.
Dr. Michael Rubino has over 20 years experience as a psychotherapist treating children and teenagers. For more information regarding his work or private practice visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.