What to do when teens talk back

Teenagers talk back. Maybe not EVERY teen, but most — it’s just a part of growing up. While it can be extremely annoying at times, it actually serves a developmental function. These adolescents are often just learning to assert themselves. They may not be doing it correctly, but that is, after all, how you learn. Of course, we aren’t saying that talking back to one’s parents is a good thing. While a little backtalk or some under-the-breath mumbling should probably just be tolerated, verbal abuse should not. It’s important to keep your adolescent’s disrespectful comments and disobedience in check, and there are some effective techniques to do so without becoming involved in a shouting match.

Dealing With Normal Backtalk

Teenage backtalk takes a few common forms. There’s the kid who just has to have the last word, no matter what. Then there’s the kid who feels he needs to explain his point of view once more every time you say no. There’s the kid who just automatically denies whatever you’re confronting them about, and the kid who immediately blames someone else. These are all pretty normal forms of backtalk.

It’s best to let your child know your expectations up front. You’ll give them a logical reason for your request or for your answer— once. After that, if they continue to talk back, you’ll simply leave the conversation. If they follow you or continue to talk back, there will be consequences. Once they realize that you aren’t going to engage them anymore, they will probably give up. Remember, it isn’t your job to continue to state evidence until your child agrees with your reasoning. Your job is to look out for their best interests. If an activity isn’t in their best interests, preventing them from participating is enough.

The most important thing to remember is to stay calm. If you get into a shouting match with your child, you become a peer — you lose your position of authority in the child’s eyes. Maintain the high ground by remaining calm, or at least appearing to remain calm. As an adult, you have a huge advantage in an argument — you are able to exercise restraint.

When Backtalk Becomes Verbal Abuse

When your child starts calling you names or threatening you, backtalk has turned into verbal abuse. Verbal abuse is unacceptable under any circumstances. Whether it’s directing at parents, siblings, teachers, or peers, verbal abuse must be addressed as soon as possible. Unfortunately, verbal abuse is often a sign of a much deeper problem. It’s important to sit down with your child and have a calm conversation about what’s going on. Let them know that you love them, but this behavior is entirely unacceptable and that there will be serious consequences if it continues. Set firm rules and consequences and make sure your teen understands them. Do not back down and do not negotiate — always follow through with the rules that you’ve laid out. It’s important that your child takes you seriously in this matter.

Getting Help

If it’s gone too far for calm discussion, it may be time to bring a professional into the situation. Sometimes a teen who won’t listen to their parents will see a healthcare professional or counselor as an authority figure and they will listen. Just talking to a psychologist can, at times, help the child identify the source of the problem and help them work it out.

If counseling doesn’t help, you may want to explore your therapy program options. A program like Outback’s is designed to help troubled teens get back on the right path. Our program is designed to heal the whole family with programs that work with parents and siblings while the teen is immersed in treatment. The further along the problem gets, the more difficult it is to reverse, so it’s important to take steps as soon as possible.


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