How to Respond to A Disrespectful Teen

How to Respond to a Disrespectful Teen

Feeling disrespected is something that really drives parents to react strongly.

We feel as though we had better “nip this in the bud” or “put a stop to this once and for all!

 If we take a closer look, we will notice that underneath our anger are fear and hurt – fear that our child is heading for social disaster and failure, and hurt that our beloved child, who we used to bounce on our lap, is saying disrespectful and hurtful things.

“Don’t you use that tone of voice with me, young lady!” is like putting gasoline on the fire. Predictably, everything goes down in flames.

And yet, we choose the same reaction over and over hoping for a better result. More yelling. Punishment upon punishment. Nothing changes, except maybe things get worse.

We want to take control, and we should. We should take control of ourselves and how we respond to what our child is saying.

“You are so mad! I really want to hear about what is upsetting you. Can you tell me about it?”

Often, just naming the emotion brings a measure of calm to the situation. If your teen starts to talk, listen for all the information you can get.

Be curious but don’t defend yourself or try to solve the problem. What she needs is to be heard and understood.

From there, she will be ready to solve the problem or work together with you for a win-win.

If your teen has lost control of herself, you can say, “Wow…I really hear how upset you are. I am upset too, because my feelings are hurt. I really want to talk, but I think we both need to calm down first. Can we make a date to go on a walk after dinner?”

When you choose to approach your teen with compassion, you can understand where he is coming from and what his feelings and needs are.

Then, you can support him as he struggles through the teen years.

Not by giving advice. Not by yelling back. But by respecting him for the developing adult he is.

He needs you to model how to live, to see you living your values, and to have you as his coach and guide.

From that position, your influence is exponentially greater than when you disrespect him by yelling back or being punitive.

Is it easy? No. Is it too late? Never. As the grownup, you are modeling how to respect by your own example.

Every time you take a deep breath, decide not to take it personally and truly listen, you are building trust and connection.

No matter what she says, your teenager needs you now more than she ever has, just in a different way.


Dr. Lesley Iwinski is the mother of three grown children, a family physician and Executive Director of The Parent and Family Enrichment Center, Inc. and Growing Peaceful Families. She offers classes, workshops and seminars. Info:  (859) 333-3053 or