Leaving behind the childhood years and diving head first into adolescence happens in the blink of an eye. Parenting Tweens and Teens comes with an entirely new set of challenges and rewards; it requires parents to adapt their approach to supporting, loving, and disciplining their children. It goes without saying that a lot of changes are taking place in the mind and body of an adolescent.

Parents expect that their teens and tweens are going to be a bit moody while going through these changes, but what can you do when your tween's typical moodiness branches further into outright disrespect?

A Search For Independence

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Understanding "why" behind the behavior can help determine how to best address it. As children progress towards adulthood, they show an increasing need for independence. While this is expected behavior, it can cause frustration. This increased desire for independence is an important step towards taking on more responsibilities, but many pre-teens find it challenging to balance the desire for independence with their existing dependence on their caretaker.

As parents try to adapt to their child's changing needs and interests, the adolescent might feel agitated by the parent's attempts at connection. This tension is a tale as old as time. Fortunately, there are tools to ease this tension and work on building trust and respect through the teenage years.

Setting Expectations & Boundaries

Teenager ignoring parent

Setting expectations is the first step towards handling any disrespect from your tween or teen. Blain Weiss, an instructor with Outward Bound, explains:

Establishing expectations are important for creating a safe, collaborative and unified environment among teens...expectations are the glue that can keep a family or a classroom of students together. They hold us accountable for our actions, strengthen life-skills related to communication and leadership...

Set expectations for how you'd like your family to communicate and what basic rules you expect everyone to abide by. Clearly outlining these expectations eliminates any confusion; clarity is kind. Having predetermined consequences for unmet expectations is helpful as well.

This process is also known as boundary setting. You're explaining exactly what your limits are, and what will happen if those boundaries are crossed.

Discipline With Love

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Discipline should be considered a form of guidance, and part of a parent's job is to provide guidance to their children.

When disciplining a tween/teen, it's wise to avoid this

  • Getting defensive - Taking a defensive stance is a natural reaction to disrespect, but parents have to try not to take these things too personally. Being defensive often heightens the tension during conflict and rarely aids in finding resolution.
  • Arguing - Trying to discipline while angry can result in arguments. Everyone has said things during an argument that they later regret; try your best to calm down before disciplining your child.
  • Using "you" statements - Rather than saying, "you make me so angry when...." it's best to focus on how the behavior makes you feel. This might look like, "I get so upset when you and your brother aren't being kind to one another". Placing the focus on how you feel can prevent the other person from feeling attacked and getting defensive.

Tips for navigating a disrespectful tween in an effective and loving way

  • Staying calm - take breaks and time-outs for yourself if you're feeling overwhelmed by big feelings.
  • Praise - When your tween is communicating respectfully, mention your appreciation for that.
  • Stay solutions-focused - Keep conversations focused on how to improve moving forward. Staying focused for longer than necessary on the negative action isn't productive. Instead, focus on how you and your tween can support each other in making better choices in the future.

It's Just A Phase

Most pre-teens grow out of this phase; it usually requires a great deal of patience, boundaries, and understanding from the parent to make it through. Just like the newborn phase, it's over in the blink of an eye. While minutes can feel like years as you help guide your child into adolescents and adulthood, know that it won't last forever.

Sources: Outward Bound, Raising Children, Raising Children, Raising Children