It’s easy for parents to get very angry and disheartened with their tween’s snarky attitude, disrespect, selfishness, and lack of gratitude, or with their teen’s pushing away from parental hugs and other expressions of affection.
This kind of attitude from tweens and teens can feel hurtful, insulting, discounting, and leave parents flabbergasted.
Many parents become convinced that their child is fully aware of her behavior, tone of voice, and word choice and is going out of her way to be defiant and mean.
In addition, this behavior often causes parents to worry about how their child will fare in the real world and how the parent-child relationship will ever survive.
The Causes of Teen and Tween Attitude
To manage these challenging times, parents will be wise to not take their child’s behavior as a personal attack on them. That’s not to say that parents should ignore or allow all rude and disrespectful behavior.
It does, however, mean that parents should put on a thick skin and recognize that it’s really more about what the tween is experiencing and less about the parents themselves.
In most cases, the increase in attitude from tweens and teens can be attributed to:
Changes occurring in the tween and teen brain causing increased impulsivity and heightened emotions, leading them to get overly angry or sad and out of proportion to the event (from the parent’s perspective).
The tweens’ need to begin separating from their parents and forming their own identities.
A developmental and subconscious need for children to test the limits of their power with parents and in doing so, get confirmation that parents will reliably hold their ground and keep their children safe.
Tweens and teens being pre-occupied, distracted, and consumed by their ever changing bodies and social world and not thinking about their parents’ emotions, needs, or reactions.
It is important to emphasize that undesirable tween and teen behavior should NOT be encouraged or condoned. Rather, parents need to understand that these behaviors are a part of this stage of development and as such, will be difficult for them to correct quickly or easily.
What Behavior to Expect from Tweens and Teens
Huffs and puffs
Questioning why you do things the way you do
Challenging your beliefs
Overreacting and easily becoming anxious or angry
Criticizing and nitpicking
Typically, this behavior will come and go. Tweens may be spewing back-talk one minute and will be genuinely kind and sweet the next. In many ways, this stage of development is much like the “terrible twos” and this type of behavior is a part of how they are developmentally wired.
While challenging to their parents, it is actually healthy for tweens to express their feelings in this way in order to move to the next level of maturity.
Responding to Attitude
In light of the various developmental causes of tween and teen attitude, parents will do well to:
Not react immediately to the behavior.
Keep their wits about them, remembering that this is just a phase, and practice methods for staying calm (such as deep breathing and keeping a sense of humor).
Use episodes of disrespectful behavior as teachable moments. Help increase your children’s awareness of what happens when their impulses control them and how that behavior impacts others.
Choose carefully which issues to address in more depth at a later time. Sometimes the best response in the moment is no response.
Parents don’t have to address every issue with their tween at the exact moment that it presents itself. It’s much better to go back to it later when all parties have had a chance to calm down.
Could the Parent be Part of the Problem?
While tween and teen attitude must be taken with a big grain of salt and a sound understanding of how it fits into their stage of development, it’s wise to look at each individual situation to confirm that the attitude isn’t a symptom of a bigger problem.
In assessing for this possibility, parents should also take a look at how their behavior may be contributing to the problem.
The following questions can help parents determine if their behavior is helping to turn down the tone in the household or making it worse:
Do you talk to your child respectfully?
Even if you’re angry? Since parents are role models, regulating your emotions is important and it keeps the conflict from escalating.
Do you react to your child’s attitude with your own attitude?
While this is an understandable human reaction, it only results in heightening the conflict and rarely leads to satisfactory resolution.
Do you engage with your tween’s sassy attitude in any way?
The mumblings under the breath, the pouting, sulking, and complaints about how unfair life is are powerful hooks that easily pull parents in. Giving increased attention to this behavior usually just exacerbates it.
Do you overreact to your tween’s attitude?
If so, this may indicate that there are problems outside the parent-child relationship that need to be addressed. Parents may be reacting to external stressors, internal conflicts, or bigger issues in the family that need some attention.
When parents realize they are taking their tween’s attitude too personally and getting their buttons pushed continually, it may be time for some outside help from a trusted friend or counselor.
How to Help Tweens and Teens Adjust Their Attitude
While attitude from tweens and teens may be normal, ignoring too much of the undesirable behavior for too long isn’t helpful to the child or the family. Parents can help train tweens to tame their responses by looking for opportunities to help them hear themselves and learn how their attitudes are impacting those around them.
For example: A parent might say something like: “I know you are frustrated and we need to talk about this. Right now your tone of voice and your facial expressions are making it very hard for me to hear your point of view.” Or more simply, “Can you try that again but without the tone?”
Keep in mind that:
tweens are often unaware of their own tone of voice and do not hear the tone in the same way that parents hear it.
parents are role models and will need to monitor their own tone of voice as well.
When Attitude is a Symptom of Something Else
The irritability and disrespect doesn’t happen just at home, but consistently occurs with other adults and kids.
Your child’s attitude causes problems in school or with friendships outside the home.
You notice other changes in your child’s behavior, such as diminished interest in activities, loss of friends, or changes in academic performance.
If any of these things are going on, consider having a heart-to-heart talk with your child and possibly getting outside professional help to sort through the problem.
By Susan Galvin, LCSW and Renée Bradford Garcia, LCSW
For more information about responding to tween behavior, visit their website www.blinkofyoureye.com and take a look at their book on tween discipline, Don’t Look at Me in that Tone of Voice: Tween Discipline for Busy Parents.
For more information about raising an adolescent, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.