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  • Mary Katherine L

The Top Two Things I Tell Parents of Teens - Part 2

In this two-part series I will share the two things I most often talk about with parents of teenagers.

Your teen might be expressing an emotion, not being disrespectful.

Here's a scenario a lot of parents/caregivers can relate to: you ask your teenager to get off their phone and help with the dishes, and they groan while they make their way to the kitchen. Many adults would mistakenly label this behavior disrespect. In this scenario, your teenager is simply expressing an emotion, one that you're probably familiar with (think: when your boss gets you to stop working on your current task that you feel energized about and switch to a different one that you always dread, or when your child interrupts a movie you're watching because they need help finding a lost library book). On the other hand if, in the same scenario, your teenager called you a name under their breath, that would be an act of disrespect, beyond simple emotional expression.

Accurately distinguishing emotional expression from disrespect can be tough. Here are two tips for avoiding common mistakes that make it even tougher:

  1. Don't take it personal. Your teenager's emotional expression can often feel like a personal affront. In the previous scenario, you can probably imagine some of the thoughts that would be running through your head after your teenager groaned: "Don't they know how much I do for them? And they don't even want to help with the dishes. It seems like the smallest act of appreciation." When you do this, you are much more likely to mislabel emotional expression as disrespect. First, a lack of appreciation for parents is pretty much a hallmark of teenage-dom and comes with the territory of being a parent. Second, their groan reflects their frustration with their own experience, not their lack of appreciation for you. Third, there are so many other ways you can teach a value of appreciation, if that's important to you.

  2. Focus on respect as a person, not respect as an authority. Focusing on respect as a person instead of respect as an authority. If you have identified a behavior as disrespectful, frame the behavior as disrespectful to you as a person, not disrespectful to you as an authority. If you're unable to do this, you might need to reflect a bit further on whether the behavior is actually disrespectful. Furthermore, when you can frame the behavior as disrespectful to you as a person, the ensuing conversation with your teenager is going to be much more impactful. "I'm your parent! Don't talk to me like that!" pretty quickly loses its meaning to your teenager. "It's important to treat the people around you kindly. It's not okay to speak to others like that" will have a lot more longevity.


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