Not too long ago, I received an email from a parent asking for advice for how to respond to their 14-year-old daughter who had recently started disliking her teachers, had run into friend problems, and was becoming disrespectful toward her parents. This email vividly reminded me of how difficult the teen years can be.

For everyone.

I recently saw a mother in my office who was describing her 13-year-old son, who had up until recently, been a very respectful young boy. “I don’t know what happened,” she said, “I want my Bobby back!” (not his real name).

Ever been there?

Maybe you are there right now.

In this blog, I want to give you a couple ideas for how to approach these difficult teen moments and then hear your ideas for how to (or how not to) approach disrespectful teen behavior.

Here are a few principles to hold on to:

1) Stay calm. I have never seen a situation where a parent’s anger or yelling made things better. Never.

2) Listen first. In my book, Project Dad, I suggest that your kids are like a dump truck. This doesn’t mean they are filled with dirt and gravel, it simply means that like a truck, they can get “filled up.” And when a truck is filled up, what does it need to do? Unload. Listening is letting your kids unload their truck. Application: Learn to be a great unloading spot. Show that you care about everything in their truck: Their thoughts, feelings, struggles, and opinions. Once their truck is empty, they’ll be more receptive to what you have to say.

3) Get into problem-solving mode. Once your teen knows that you have taken the time to listen and care about her perspective, she’ll be more open to the next step, which is to think together about possible solutions. This doesn’t mean trying to solve her problem single-handedly, but talking together about possible ideas. If you are new at this, it can be helpful to write ideas down as you both think of them (even if they are bad) and then go back and evaluate each one. You are helping your teen learn how to approach teen issues in a thoughtful way.

4) Model and expect respectfulness. Everyone can blow it in an angry moment. Don’t expect perfection out of anyone (including yourself), but repeated disrespectfulness is not going to help anything. Make sure that you are communicating respectfully and let your teen know that she can express how she feels, but she must also do it in a respectful way. If she chooses to be routinely disrespectful with her words or actions, an appropriate loss of privilege is in order.

5) See the bigger picture. You have a teenager. You knew it was coming. Use these opportunities to show your kids that there is no problem that you can’t solve together. Be caring, respectful, and optimistic. If you mess up, apologize. If you feel unprepared, talk to other parents whose kids are older than yours. Read a few good books about raising teens. You can do this.

Do you have any “nuggets” of wisdom for handling challenging teen behavior?

Any suggestions for what NOT to do?

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