One cool evening, I watched as my neighbour refused to grant permission for his adolescent son to attend a party with his friends. With an equally stern face the son responded “hell no, I must be at the party!” My neighbour’s son is developing a “smart mouth” and an attitude to go with it. He is very disrespectful, especially in public and in the presence of guests. I flashed back to my days as a teenager; I could not talk back at my parents for any reason and most especially in public and in the presence of visitors. Eons ago in Nigeria, we lived a communal life where the neighbour could correct a defiant teenager in the absence of his/her parents. In Nigeria today, family structures are not as strong as they used to be. There are too many distractions and a general breakdown of discipline coupled with the fact that parents are generally busy with career pursuit.
Teenagers are confronted daily with choices. They struggle to make good decisions and are held accountable for it. Adolescence is that time in which they go through a major transformation in their lives; emotional, mental and biological changes are taking place. This is one of the major reasons for their unpredictable behaviour. As a parent/guardian, how do you get your teen to stop the snide and rude back talk? Here are seven smart suggestions:
1. TELL IT TO JESUS: It could be challenging to have a rebellious teenager, but remember the hymn “I must tell Jesus all of my trials.” Indeed, Jesus is readily available when you lay your issues bare before Him. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you His love for your child and to help you to nurture him/her in the way of the Lord. Ask God to help you see one or two good aspects in your child that you can praise. Always find an encouraging saying, quote or Scripture verse to leave your child with as he/she walks out the door to school every day.
2. RESPECT YOUR TEEN: Respect is reciprocal. If you expect your child to respect you, show some respect too. This way you will be able to play the part of a role model. Be involved, but don’t interfere too much. At the same time, don’t indulge them; don’t give in to unreasonable demands. Give your child the same respect that you would like and try to refrain from name-calling or labeling with such words as, “spoiled brat.” Instead, keep the focus on the behaviour that you would like to change.
3. DO NOT SHOUT/CURSE YOUR TEEN: The more you shout or curse your teen, the more he/she will shout or curse back. When you get angry and shout or curse your teen, you undermine your authority. Remember, you are your child’s greatest influence in terms of nurturing the right kind of behaviour in him/her. When you shout at your teen, they may feel like they are under attack and may not be open to make adjustments. If your teen ignores you, you can also try to ignore them back. Do not negotiate with your child, back down, or let her draw you into an argument about the discipline that you are enforcing. Discipline is the goal and shouldn’t be up for discussion or argument. If your child feels like s/he can argue or negotiate a discipline, s/he’ll be more likely to continue an undesired behaviour and would likely argue even more the next time around.
4. COMMUNICATE: If your teen is out of control, one of the best things to do with them is to sit him/her down and have a talk. There are always different aspects to a story and you might discover that probably you are the one at fault. Do not assume that your teen is stupid and immature. Discuss the rules with your child. Explain why you are setting rules and be prepared to give answers for your ideas because most children will question you. One common catchphrase from teens is, “You don’t understand!” Do not further frustrate your child by saying, “Yes, I do!”, or “I went through exactly what you are going through now.” We all like to think of experiences as unique. Instead of asserting a “been there, done that” stance, help your child practice communicating without being rude by responding, “I may not understand, but I do want to try to understand what you are feeling. Can we talk about it later when we’re both calmer?”
5. NEVER RESORT TO VIOLENCE. This will aggravate the problem, making your teenager more unruly. Never confront them with hostility and anger which may lead to violence in an extreme case. Be confident, firm, and consistent.
6. BE FLEXIBLE: Flexibility might turn out to be a huge advantage. Be willing to have conversations (rather than fights) about adjusting the rules and consequences every few months as your teenager gets older and can take on more responsibility. You may have to participate in some odd-seeming activities—and maybe at odd hours – to be part of his or her world. Really try to relax and bring humour to the daily interactions and challenges of having a teenager. It will make a difference!
7. COMPLIMENT YOUR TEEN: Also try to notice and point out the positives in your teen. S/he really needs your affirmation and encouragement. Remember to praise the child for what they do right before focusing on the wrong.
On a final note, children are like sponges. Whatever you throw in their direction they will surely pick up.