4 Ways to Put an End to Disrespecting Teens Couples need to be on the same page when implementing these very simple rules. BY HARRY H HARRISON JR.
You're not there to be their friend, you're there to be the parent.
“ Behind every disrespectful teen is a teen that feels they are the least important person in your life.”
Doors slamming. Eyes rolling. Extended middle fingers. One-word discussions. Outrageous demands for more money, newer cars and less chores. In a survey, over 90 percent of parents who answered the question, "What are your top three parenting issues," all responded with either lack or respect or bad attitude.
But what’s strange is these same kids have friends whose parents they do respect! In 12 years of interviewing kids and parents, I know that most teens have what I call a Kool-Aid house, a home where kids of all stripes congregate, not because there are no rules, but indeed because there are strict rules about language, drugs, alcohol and behavior. And, even the most rebellious kids love this Kool-Aid house and change their behavior accordingly.
So what kind of Kool-Aid are these parents serving up?
Consistency. A teen’s life is chaotic. There’s school and homework and friends and popularity and then sports or music or theatre and youth groups, not to mention hormones, the opposite sex and parents. Parent consistency is critical because it gives teens the opportunity to relax. They know what’s coming next. Be consistent in everything: with breakfast, with rules, with consequences. If a teen isn’t sure he’ll get in trouble for cursing his mom, he’ll try it. If, however, he knows his world will end, then he won’t. Consistency is a parents’ best friend. Use it liberally.
Presence. Nobody wants to hurt your feelings, but here’s the truth: your presence is everything. But not just being there. Be there. If you’re always answering your cell phone or checking on your e-mail, guess what . . . you’re not there. And your kids know it. One "troubled" teen told me his dad would let his cell phone interrupt any conversation with his sons, no matter how important. They could be saying over lunch, "Dad, I just stole some nuclear fission material to sell it to . . ." and the phone would buzz and their dad would say, "Hold on," and take the call. Behind every disrespectful teen is a teen who feels they are the least important person in your life. So be present. Be present when they are sullen. Hurting. Happy. Angry. Being present tells your teen, "I love you so much that I’m here," without you having to say that. Being present is a stepping stone to respect.
Be their parent. This is where so many parents get it wrong, and then when the wheels go off the track it’s a train wreck. One day I had to discipline my son for some transgression and he was shocked. "I . . . I thought your were my friend," he said unhappily. I looked at him and said, "Sage I’ve never been your friend, but I will always, always be your father." Don’t misunderstand me about this: A Fearless Parent loves their child, enjoys their child, does fun things with their child, but they are always their parent. A child is only disrespectful because she’s forgotten who you are, but it isn’t her fault if you forgot first.
Be more concerned about their future rather than their momentary happiness. I find nothing more humiliating for a parent than to be wandering behind some sulking teenager continually asking her, "Are you happy?" "Are you ok?" "What’s the matter?" I’ll tell you what’s the matter. They’re teenagers. They’re not programmed to be happy. They’re programmed to be anxious, weird, hormone crazed, sexually befuddled and usually hungry. That is not a prescription for good moods, but that does not excuse bad behavior either. Our manic devotion to our children’s happiness has caused us to buy them anything they want, permit whatever they want, spend the night wherever and with whomever they want, smoke or drink whatever they want, talk however they want, dress however they want, yet scientists tell us this is the most anxious, unhappy generation ever! Making them happy has failed them. Happiness cannot be bought. It has to be earned. A teenager who holds a job, whose behavior and language are regulated by parents, who’s held accountable for grades and chores and decisions—things we think will make kids unhappy actually makes them happy.
And infinitely more respectful.
Keep this in mind. Every day, in all of our actions, we are teaching our kids to either respect us or scorn us. They won’t respect us because we let them drink in the house. They’ll respect us if we set rules and consequences, if we are there in body and spirit, if we focus on the future and not their current state of happiness, if we act like we’re 40 not 15. This is the Kool-Aid that Kool-Aid houses serve. And teens drink it up.
Harry H Harrison Jr. is a New York Times best selling parenting author with over 3.7 million books in print. "Fearless Parenting. Raising a Child to Face the Adult World" is available for Kindle readers. He has been interviewed on over 25 television programs, and featured in over 75 local and national radio stations, including NPR. His books are available in over 35 countries throughout Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Norway, South America, China, Saudi Arabia and in the Far East. For more information visit www.fearlessparenting.com.