Disrespectful Child or Teen? 5 Things Not to Do as a Parent


Eye rolling, curses, insults, backtalk, name calling, ignored requests, snide comments: disrespect from your child or teen comes in many different forms. If you’re struggling with disrespectful behavior from your kids, you’re definitely not alone: this is one of the biggest topics of conversation between parents and our online parent coaches.

The truth is, disrespectful behavior is one of the inappropriate ways kids, especially teenagers, try to solve their problems. Kids can feel powerless in the face of rules and expectations, and talking back and showing disrespect is one way they try to take some power back. If they can drag you into an argument, that’s even better: now you’re arguing about respect instead of focusing on their curfew or their homework!

“You can’t demand respect, but you can require that your child acts respectfully, no matter how they feel about the situation.”

The reasons behind disrespectful behavior include the perfectly normal and healthy process of your child growing up and away from his identity as a younger child. Teens naturally seek more independence as they get older, and mild disrespect is one way that independence gets expressed.

But as James Lehman, creator of The Total Transformation® program writes: “While it’s important to allow for the natural ‘breaking away’ process that comes during the teen years, parents also have to be sure to identify and challenge any truly disrespectful child behavior that is hurtful, rude, or demeaning to others.”

So while it may be healthy and normal in some cases, disrespectful behavior isn’t something you want to let go unchecked. In fact, ignoring it completely can actually cause disrespectful behavior to escalate.

What else increases disrespectful behavior in teens?

Here are five almost guaranteed ways you can unknowingly encourage disrespectful behavior in your child – and what you can do instead:

1. Don’t Take Everything Personally or Overreact

Pretty much every teenager pokes relentlessly at their parents, expressing their frustrations in various ways. Eye rolling, scoffing, smirking – those are all tools in the teenage arsenal that convey their disregard. And as we all know, those mild, irritating behaviors can really get under your skin. Kids are looking for those weak spots, those places where they can drag you into defending yourself or your rules.

If you take it personally, it’s going to be really hard to respond effectively. If you react to every single one of those behaviors, you’re not likely to see any change in your child. While these things are annoying, they aren’t necessarily something to correct.

James Lehman talks about ignoring the little disrespectful things your child does – especially if she’s otherwise complying with your rules. The kid who mutters under her breath as she stomps off to do as she’s told is behaving like a typical, normal kid. It’s when your kid treats people badly while refusing to comply with expectations that you need to jump in and correct the behavior. (Our articles about disrespectful child behavior go into this in more detail.)

What to Do Instead:

Decide which behaviors you’re going to focus on, and which you can ignore. Remember that those mildly irritating behaviors aren’t about you, they’re simply an expression of frustration. Your role is to deal with your child or teen’s behavior as objectively as possible. It doesn’t mean you won’t be irritated! Just find ways to handle that emotion away from interactions with your child, if possible. Let it go, and stay focused on the topic at hand.

2. Don’t Bad-mouth Other People

Life is stressful sometimes: bosses are challenging, neighbors get too loud, family members can be irritating. As a parent, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to show your kids how you manage your behavior when you’re annoyed or upset. Kids “watch us for a living,” as the Lehmans say. If you talk badly about others or treat other people with disrespect, don’t be surprised if your child follows suit.

What to Do Instead:

Parents have to role model better behavior for their kids. Remember, they’re watching you, even if they don’t seem like they care what you do. If you value respect, model respectful behavior. Do your best to show them the way it should be done.

3. Don’t Take Your Child’s Side

Wait, what? What does taking your child’s side have to do with disrespectful behavior? Let’s say your child complains