Don’t Talk To Me Like That! How To Handle Back Talk
Your kids probably tested the waters of talking back when they were younger, but you may be shocked at the quality –and sheer quantity — of disrespect you face now that they’re teenagers. I’m going to share some tips for surviving and getting past the back-talk (regardless of the age of your kids).
There’s something important to be aware of upfront. Kids today talk to their friends in ways that we would never have even considered when we were their age. Not that it excuses rude verbal exchanges, but part of the problem is the rampant acceptance of the vulgar, disrespectful, and offensive ways that they talk to each other. Some of this carries over into how they talk to everyone, especially when they’re angry or annoyed. So take heart, because it isn’t just you.
Teenagers are going through a process of separating from their parents, and part of the exploration of their new autonomy and independence is testing the limits. Your kids probably went through this when they were toddlers…and now the behaviour is back again. With some minor variations, the strategies for handling backtalk in toddlers are the same as those used with teens.
First of all, it’s very important to set a good example. If you speak disrespectfully to your kids, you can expect them to do the same to you. But it isn’t just how you speak to your kids, but how you speak around your kids. You don’t actually have to swear at a toddler for him to pick up the word and start saying, “Oh, s**t,” at the drop of a hat. This applies to kids of all ages. Consider what message you are sending through the way that you talk, not just to the people in your house, but in front of them. Even if this doesn’t curb the behaviour altogether, you can at least use it to remind them that you don’t speak to them in a disrespectful way, and you expect the same courtesy in return.
Parents of teens are sometimes so appalled at the language their teen is using that they are almost too stunned to respond. What can happen when they regain their composer is that they then lash out at their kids: “I beg your pardon?! Don’t talk to me that way! You’re grounded!” While it is an understandable reaction, it’s not the most effective. Backtalk is generally designed to provoke a reaction, and as we all know, bad attention is better than no attention. Now your teen knows that you can get “hooked” by this type of talk, and will probably whip it out again later. When you feel your blood start to boil, a better response is to take a time out. Just walk away. You’ve kept your teen from getting the attention that she was craving, and you’ve also left her with the opportunity to consider her behaviour.
Once you’re calm – whether that’s in an hour or sometime later that day or even the following day – let you teen know that you don’t appreciate being spoken to that way. You can try something like, “I need to be spoken to with respect.” Simple, direct, and emphasizes that this isn’t something you’re willing to compromise on. Something else you can mention during this discussion is that you don’t feel very inclined to help someone who doesn’t speak to you politely. Remind her that you aren’t obligated to help her with her homework or run errands for her, and that while she may need those things, you also have needs – one of which is courteous requests.
When kids feel powerless, they try to find other ways to gain some of that power. By pushing your buttons and saying things that they know will be upsetting to you, they feel as though, for a moment, they have gained the upper hand. As a parent, you can discourage this behaviour by backing away from power struggles and encouraging your teen to participate in as many decisions as is reasonable for their age. Keep working at building your relationship, and remember that the kinder and firmer you are about your need for courtesy, the sooner this phase will pass.