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How to handle teen talk back

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

“I don’t have to listen to you” and “you’re not the boss of me” can be some of the most infuriating comments to hear as a parent of a teenager. Here’s why teens talk back and some strategies to diffuse your next unproductive argument.

Why teens talk back

As teens strive for independence, it’s natural for them to talk back. Talk back is a side effect of your teen seeking autonomy. Part of that autonomy means that teens are looking for ways to assert themselves, even if it means coming off as rude or offensive at times. This egocentric behavior is normal in teen development and can even play a supporting role in helping your teen establish their own identity (a process formally called individualization).

Don’t add fuel to the fire

As a parent, it’s common to want to reassert your power with statements such as “My roof, my rules” or “I am the boss of you”. However, this can spiral into a power struggle as your frustration can fuel your teen’s excitement that they have power over you. If you try to stop their rudeness with your authority, your reactions may be giving your teen’s rudeness more power than it should have. Ultimately, by leading with a “My roof, my rules” attitude, your behavior may be provoking your teen to test the limits of just how far your authority goes.

Investigate with kindness

The key to diffusing talk back is helping your teen manage their own emotions, better known as emotional regulation. You can assist your teen in practicing emotional regulation by calmly listening and investigating the situation as opposed to meeting their disrespect with anger. Help your teenager recognize that you are invested in their needs and that they don’t have to act defiantly to get your attention. It could sound like, “I don’t know where that came from and I don’t like being spoken to that way, but I want to understand where you are coming from.” Talk it out and get to the underlying source of frustration.

Take a breather

Another tactic to handle talk back is leaving the situation and coming back with a clearer mind. A phrase like, “The way you responded made me just lose my cool. I’m going to go for a walk and we can reconvene when I get back” not only demonstrates to your teen how you are able to regulate your own emotions, but models this behavior to teens as to how they can stand up for themselves when they are being mistreated.

Your teen just wants independence

As teens are navigating their independence, talk back is almost guaranteed. But establishing your power over them is rarely the way to go. When parents resort to shutting down talk back, it can distract from the real situation at hand. So, next time your teen responds with undue snark, try to see it as their clunky attempt to practice independence and respond with compassionate listening.

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If you’d like to chat with a coach about handling talk back from your teen, Cherish is offering free coaching and curated community groups for parents with teens throughout COVID-19. If you're interested in a personal parenting coach with Cherish, please sign up here! We’d love to hear from you!

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