Teens That Talk Back
When your teenager fights with you, it ruins your authority, it frustrates you, it leaves you feeling helpless, it erodes your respect, and leaves you not knowing what to do. Even if you get your way, the mere fact that you have to argue with your teenager takes away your position as the parent and the person in power, and person in charge.
However, it does not have to be like this. You are able to maintain your position and control even when your teenager's arguing with you. And you can do this by using just one word. That word is 'and'.
So here is how it works. Let's say your teenager's arguing about something. This is what you do.
Let your teenager state his case without interrupting. Now if your child's really excited about the argument, he may go on and on and on, but you can tell he is running out of things to say when he's starts repeating himself. Once your child has finished venting his opinion, it is now your turn.
What you do is you reply in a three-part sentence. This is how it works. In part one, you first address your child by his name, and then you rephrase and restate your child's position. This shows your child, your teenager, that you are listening to him. Part two is simply the word 'and'. We use the word 'and' rather than the word 'but' because 'and' implies that there is not a conflict, there is not an argument; where 'but' implies a difference of opinions.
And in reality, there really is not much of an argument. You both want the same thing. You want what's best for your teenager. You just have some disagreement of what that best thing is. In part three of the three part sentence, what you're going to do is tell your teenager what you expect him to do to comply.
After the point, there's no further discussion, there's no arguing, no debates, there's nothing else to talk about on the matter.
So how will your child respond to this? Well, he's going to hate it. Your child will be upset, he will argue, he may even scream about how unfair you are. However, the most important thing you ever do is you simply restate your original three-part statement.
There are not any negotiations, explanations, debates, or arguments. You might even have to leave the room. You just don't get sucked into an argument.
This is what it sounds like.
Teen: Mom, you're not fair. All the other guys are going to the game tonight and you're not letting me go.
Parent: Yes Brad, I know you feel I'm being unfair, and I'm not letting you go to the game tonight because it's a school night.
Teen: I can't stand it. What's being a school night have anything to do with it? You're treating me like a little child. Why can't I go to the game?
Parent: I understand Brad, that you feel I'm treating you like a child, and I am not letting you go to the game tonight.
Teen: I can't stand this. You let George do anything he wants to do, but never let me anything.
Parent: I understand, Brad that you feel like I let your older brother, George, do anything he wants, and I don't let you do anything. I am saying you cannot go to the game tonight. Now, I have to go to work.
Will this work every time? Maybe, maybe not. Nothing works every time. We have no magic solutions here. However, what will happen is that you will not get sidetracked onto other issues. You will fade away from these confrontations and you'll be the one feeling empowered, and dignified, rather than feel like a worn out rag.
The real strength of this strategy is that even if it doesn't make a bad situation good, it does make it a lot better than it would be if you had not used this tool to eliminate the conflict.
Another great thing about this approach is it works for children of all ages. You start when your child's very young, as soon as he's able to talk, and use this to eliminate arguments. And you can even use it until your child's ready to move out of the house. It is good for all children, small children, older children and teenagers. It works for everybody.
How to Handle Back Talk
Did that Come Out of My Child's Mouth?
Back talk: It stings, it shocks, it embarrasses, and it can turn your home into a battleground. Jim Bozigar, head of community outreach at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh, runs a back-talk workshop for parents. He says that with a little understanding and self-restraint, parents can put a lid on talking back.
"The reasons for back talk are as varied as the personalities of the children who use it," says Bozigar. The child could be hungry, tired, or in a transitional period. But children who talk back usually do have one thing in common: They're trying to separate from their parents and exercise control over their lives.
How should you handle these outbursts? Bozigar suggests parents do some behavior tracking: "For three days, make notes about what your child says, what the situation was, and how you responded. See if you notice any patterns. And keep in mind that when kids talk back, something else is going on underneath. The goal is to help them express it constructively."
Six rules for fighting fair
You won't ever be able to avoid disagreements with your kids, but you can learn how to fight fair. Bozigar suggests that each family member adhere to the following rules:
- Don't attack
- Don't belittle
- Don't condemn
- Define what the problem is
- Define how to rectify it
- Figure out what can be done to prevent it in the future
- Common back talk: "No!" and "Why?"
How to respond: Model good behavior. Try saying, "Wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to do things we don't like to do?" Don't yell back and don't be sarcastic. Your response is going to determine what happens next. Parents will never be able to control their children. The only person you can control is yourself. When you model control, you teach kids how to control themselves.
Common back talk: "You don't understand!" and "It's not fair!"
How to respond: Kids this age care more about what their peers think than what you think. They'll try to dangle bait to get you going. Don't bite! You'll lose: School-age kids always need to have the last word. Instead, let the child own the problem and empathize with him. Try saying, "You don't think I know what's going on with you right now and that's frustrating, but you're being disrespectful. Please go to your room until you've calmed down and can talk rationally with me."
You'll have to be proactive to keep on top of the "It's not fairs." Limits help kids develop inner control. Set limits for when you think your kids will be ready to cross the street safely, stay up later, go on a date, etc. Then try saying, "You know that in our house the rule is ______"
Common back talk: "What's the big deal?"
How to respond: Instead of taking responsibility, this age group often puts parents on the defensive. Say your daughter borrowed a scarf that had sentimental value and then lost it. You might blurt out, "How could you be so irresponsible!" Look out -- she'll most likely turn that response around on you: "Oh and you've never lost anything before? Excuse me for not being perfect!" Instead of attacking, try talking in concrete terms: "You did this, so I feel this." Use the restraint and respect you'd show a guest in your home. The goal is for you to express your feelings in a way that allows your child to take responsibility for them.
Common back talk: "Leave me alone!" and "It's all your fault!"
How to respond: Beware -- they may look like grown-ups, but teenagers are not completely rational. They think differently than adults and children, and often feel they're invulnerable. Be concerned about their responses and listen to them. Help them to see that you're on their side. If they say they want to be left alone, back off but don't give up. Take a more subtle approach. Write them a note without attacking or blaming, and say that you'd like to hear back from them. Always keep the dialogue open. Try talking in a lower voice. If you model screaming and shouting, that's what you'll get in return. And remember, you are always the authority in your house; you can set limits. As parents, you cannot be friends with your children, but you can still treat them in a friendly way.
Here’s How to Stop It
As a parent, sometimes it seems like your day is filled with an endless stream of backtalk from your kids—you hear it when you ask them to do chores, when you tell them it’s time to stop watching TV, and when you lay down rules they don’t like. It’s one of the most frustrating and exhausting things that we deal with when we raise our kids.
Backtalk comes from a sense of powerlessness and frustration. People don’t like to feel powerless, and that includes children. So when kids are told “no” they feel like something’s been taken from them. They often feel compelled to fill that empty space with backtalk. I want to make the distinction here between backtalk and verbal abuse, because many times people confuse these two very different things. If your child has started saying hurtful or harmful things, the line between backtalk and verbal abuse has been crossed. For instance, if a teen is cursing you, calling you names or threatening you, that’s verbal abuse. If your child is saying, “This isn’t fair, you don’t understand, you don’t love me,” that’s backtalk.
Verbal abuse is a very negative behavior and has to be dealt with aggressively and up front. It’s not that backtalk is harmless, but it’s certainly not as hurtful and hostile and attacking as verbal abuse is. For parents who are dealing with verbal abuse in their home right now, rest assured that we’ll be addressing this topic in an upcoming article.
Backtalk itself can take several forms. One is the kid who can’t keep quiet, no matter what you say: he or she has got to have the last word. And then there’s the child who wants you to understand their point after you’ve already said “no.” It’s easy for kids to get into the mindset of, “If I could just explain it better, you’d understand my situation.” So you’ll get kids who present their problem or request repeatedly in the hopes that their parents will give in and respond to it. If their parents don’t give them the answer they want, those kids will then try to re-explain, as if the parent doesn’t understand. Often, as they launch into their explanation for the third or fourth time, the child and the parent will both get more frustrated until it ends up in an argument or a shouting match.
Don’t Respond to Backtalk: You’ve already set the limit
Why do parents react to backtalk after they’ve already won the argument? I think parents often see it as their job to respond to their children: to teach, train and set limits on them. And backtalk is an invitation to do just that. Just as the child re-explains things to the parent if they’re told “no,” the parent “talks back” and re-explains things to their child. So the parent’s mindset seems to be, “If you really understood what I was saying, you wouldn’t talk back to me—you’d accept my answer.” Let me be clear here: That’s not a rational mindset. It leads parents into attending and prolonging arguments in which they don’t need to engage. Parents sometimes see backtalk as a challenge to their authority, but as long as you accomplish your objective, the fact is that your authority is fully intact.
Here’s an example:
Your child: “Can I stay out until 10 tonight?”
You: “No, because you have to get up early tomorrow for soccer practice.”
Your child: “Who cares? I don’t need that much sleep.”
You should stop right there. Any conversation you engage in after that is meant to convince your child that you have sound judgment. Know this: that’s the wrong objective because it addresses a completely different issue—whether or not you made a good decision. So once you give a reasonable explanation for the rule you’ve stated, your job is done. You can repeat it again if need be. You’ve already won the fight. But when you try to convince your child that you’re right and they continue to challenge you through backtalk, you’re just going to get more frustrated. Your job as a parent is not to get your child to accept the reasonableness and rationality of your decisions. You just need them to follow the rules. Look at it this way: when a cop stops you for speeding, he doesn’t care if you think that 35 miles an hour is too slow. He just tells you what the law is. If you argue with him, he repeats what the law is. If you don’t accept it, he hands you your ticket and walks away. If you become verbally abusive, he arrests you. Try to think of yourself as the cop here—you’re the parent making the rules, and your child needs to accept them or pay the consequences.
Shutting Down Backtalk: The Plan
In order to put a stop to backtalk, there are several things you have to do. First of all, when things are good, sit down with your child and lay down some ground rules. Discussions about these rules are critical to good communication and to cooperation down the road. I guarantee that you’ll feel better as a parent if you set up rules and follow them with your children. Your goal then becomes following the ground rules instead of trying to achieve your child’s acceptance. The first rule is, “I’ll explain something once and I’m not going to talk more after that. If you try to argue or debate, I’m going to walk away. If you follow me or if you continue there will be consequences.” You set limits on backtalk and you don’t give it power.
Another option is to set up a certain time of day in which your kid can talk back to you. You can say to them, “From 7-7:10 p.m., you can ask me to re-explain all my decisions. Save it for then. If you need to, write it down in a journal. Then at 7 o’clock, we’ll sit down and I’ll explain to you why you can’t date a 22 year old or how come you got grounded for smoking. But at 7:15, our discussion is done. If you try to keep it going there will be consequences.” That way, if you feel like you want to give your child an outlet to air his or her grievances, there’s a way to do it without getting bogged down in constant arguing.
Remember, there are two kinds of days that a kid has: there are good days and then there are days when things don’t go their way. Don’t try to fight the tide of disappointment that kids experience. They will use backtalk to get their way, but as a parent, you have to accept the fact that they will not always be happy with your decisions. Your job is to set the rules and enforce them because those roles are for your teen’s development and safety. Whether they like those rules or not, they have to learn to live with them.
Backtalk: 4 Steps to Ending Rude Behavior in Your Kids
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