Q: Our 17-year-old son has become very disrespectful to us. He’s easily angered and makes sarcastic remarks. We’ve tried taking away privileges, but it doesn’t seem to change his attitude. What can we do to make him take notice and grow up?
A: We understand that this is a frustrating situation – but unfortunately, one that is fairly common. Often when a teenager starts being disrespectful, we assume that something else is driving that behaviour.
Begin by doing a self-check to assess the behaviours you and your spouse are modelling. If your son feels that you don’t respect each other (or him), or doesn’t believe he’s a priority to you, he may reflect that attitude back at you.
Next, it’s vital to reach out in love and try to find out what has prompted the behavioural change. Is he being bullied or rejected by peers? Perhaps he didn’t make the team, or is struggling with a particular school subject, and is feeling diminished as a result.
The point is that if you genuinely try to understand his world and emotions, and pursue him relationally, he probably won’t resent limits. Teenagers need a stable, secure foundation to launch into adulthood; they want to know that you care enough to establish reasonable boundaries.
That involves being proactive vs. reactive. Set aside a time – outside the heat of conflict – and respectfully share your feelings using word pictures. Involve your son in the process of contracting around appropriate behaviour; i.e., get him to decide and agree not only to the consequences if he falls short, but also the rewards when he succeeds.
As the saying goes, “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” Show him you respect him enough to really care if he’s hurting, and hopefully he will reciprocate.
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