How do I handle teenage back talk?

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Answered by: Dennis, An Expert in the Responsibilities and Rules Category
Teenage back talk is a problem that should be addressed immediately and at every instance if you want to solve the problem. Let's face it- the problem will not correct itself. Always remember that the problem is NOT the teenager, it's the behavior. If the child (teens have children's minds even though they may look grown-up) thinks that you are upset with or correcting them as a person, it will worsen the situation. If you let them know that it is their choice of behavior that is being corrected, it is less personal and you are more able to have a positive outcome. Reinforce that you love the person but their choice of behavior and words is not acceptable. Keep the following three things in mind when correcting these instances.

Number one, you are the adult! Always KEEP A COOL HEAD and if you do get upset, wait until the anger or frustration is gone before correcting the child. One of the worst things we can do as parents is give correction while angry. If we do this, we are likely to say something that sounds like teenage back talk in the first place and that will only put it in the child’s mind that anger is an excuse to say whatever we want. This is wrong. Keep calm and correct with kindness.

Secondly, let them know YOU ARE DISAPPOINTED IN THE BEHAVIOR. The words that they used show a lack of care and concern for themselves and others. Authority figures are there for the safety and benefit of the ones they are charged with managing. This applies to children and parents, employees and employers and whole nations and their leaders. It is a team effort. Eventually when the child is in a position of authority, they will need someone else to listen to them and do what they ask, without a bunch of static and arguments. Right now, the words and expressions they just used could hurt not only their own reputation but it could hurt the reputation of the whole family. It's OK to pause a moment and let this sink in.

Third, start to pick them back up by letting them know that YOU KNOW THEY HAVE THE ABILITY TO CHOOSE A BETTER RESPONSE or just choose to say nothing at all. Let them know that they are an intelligent, valuable person and you love them. Express that they are an excellent, growing young man or woman, that we all make mistakes and that the true measure of a person is in their willingness to correct their mistakes.

While these three steps might not work in every circumstance, they will get you started in the right direction. They will work best when the correction is one to one and the teen does not feel they are being corrected publicly. However in those cases where the teenage back talk is in public, simply make eye contact and let them know that the choice was not right or acceptable and that it will be addressed thoroughly and soon. Then use the steps at the first private moment. Soon you may even find that the child will start to self correct during the steps and that is when you have started to solve the problem.

Always remember that children are a reflection of what they see. If you as the parent have a habit of giving smarty pants answers and funny zingers to others at every turn, then you should not be surprised to see it in your child. You may want to choose up your words before you spit them out! Limiting or eliminating TV, computer and video games can also be a key if that is where these learned behaviors are coming from. Take a week and monitor their entertainment patterns to see if they are positive or negative influences. What you may find could surprise you.

If the problem has already gotten out of hand and the child impudently makes rude comments with matching body language and facial expressions then it is time for a lesson in consequences. Set them down and make a list of the things, places and times that will start to disappear from their lives when the back talk takes place. No warnings are necessary after the consequence list is in place. Firmly tell them that every time the unacceptable behavior or choice of words continues there will be consequences. Then it is their choice. If you are in this situation, you will be tested, but standing the test now will lead to rewards in your child’s life later (yours too). Be firm, fair and consistent.

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