“I hate you”
“You don’t understand anything”
“Why can’t you just let me be”
“You are the worst parent in the world”
“You always say No”
Parents of teenagers today often hear such statements. We are taken aback since we may have been brought up in an environment where there was no question of disrespecting our parents. Even if we did have such feelings we definitely did not speak to them like this. Well, here is the good news – If your child feels comfortable enough to express himself to you, you are actually on the right path. You have created an environment where the child feels safe enough to share his emotions. Having said this, all of us know that hearing such statements is not easy. It hurts!
You may have feelings of anger – How dare you talk to me like this? And feelings of pain- After all that I do for you, how can you say such things to me? And maybe even feelings of embarrassment if your child has been rude to you in front of others. Yes, it's hard being a parent of a teenager. But it’s also hard for them. They have so many changes going on in their bodies and brain. Science tells us there is a biological drive for them to separate from parents and attach themselves to peers. Their brain tells them that this is what they need to do in order to prepare to go out into the world and be independent. They feel overwhelmed with trying to fit in with their peer group. They feel stressed by the pressures of studies and other expectations at this stage of their lives. This inner turbulence comes out on the persons closest to them- Their parents. So how do we respond to this behaviour?
Don’t take it personally
When we share this with parents, they ask, “Does that mean we just allow them to talk to us any way they want”? No, that is not the solution. The best piece of advice given to every parent of a teenager is “Don’t take it personally.” What does this mean? It means understanding that this is not about you! It’s about knowing that most teenagers behave like this. You are not a bad parent. So, if we could be somewhat detached about their rant, we are in a better position to help them without reacting in anger
Don’t make it an ego issue
When our children speak to us like this our ego is hurt. Our first reaction is “How dare she. I will show her who is the boss.” We then say things or take actions which only alienate our children and make them feel we are against them. We are the adults here. If we can take the higher ground and understand that their behaviour is just a cry for help, we could stay connected with our teenagers.
Don’t try to hit back
When we are hurt, our natural reaction is wanting to hurt the other person too. We might do this through punishments or refusing to talk to them. This goes into a negative spiral of generating more anger in the child towards us.
Teenagers need our unconditional love and acceptance. We could react to their rudeness by making them aware of how their words are affecting us and when necessary set limits with empathy.
“Looks like you are really upset that I am not letting you go for that movie”
“You wish I never said ‘No’ and you could do whatever you wanted”
“I can see that you are really angry, but I am not willing to let you talk to me like this. I would like you to calm down and talk to me when you are willing to be respectful.”
“It really hurts to be spoken to like this. I don’t think I can continue with this conversation.”
“It is not OK to slam the doors. We don’t do that in our house.”
Responses like this will give you the space to handle your own feelings and get back to your child without getting locked into ugly arguments. If we want respect from them, it’s important for us to role model respectful communication. It is necessary to tell them when their behaviour is not acceptable and those discussions are best had when both parent and child are calm. “You know when you were angry and slammed the door I not like it. I would like you to find another way of expressing your anger if you are upset with me. Maybe you can write me a letter? or send me a message? “We have to coach them on better ways to express themselves and show them that there are boundaries that cannot be crossed.
In the end, if we can reassure them that we are there to love and support them no matter what, this is a phase that will pass. They will eventually show you that they want that connection with you too.
Author: Kesang Menezes is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.