Words of Wisdom

Youth is wasted on the young.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Sage Advice From an Expert!

I thought this article from psychologist Kirrilee Smout was worth sharing. Her website is:


Why are Teens Rude?

I saw a mum, Tina (names/details changed) this week who was despairing about the rudeness of her 15 year old daughter, Jess.  Tina said Jess was polite and friendly to her teachers, other adults and friends, but as this ended as soon as she walked in the door at home.  Tina told me that Jess  would often rudely make demands, grunt when she was asked questions or just ignore her. 
Unfortunately, this is not an unusual story.  Teens are often surly and disrespectful with parents.    There are many reasons for why rudeness happens – and I thought it might be useful to outline a few of them below.
Social tiredness:  Teens often spend many hours of their day thinking about how they are perceived by their peers, trying to be liked by friends, thinking about past and future conversations and what to say, the intricacies of teen relationships, comments on facebook, how they look to others and who is going to invite them out next.  The social thinking and planning teens have to do to survive these days is extensive – and exhausting.  Some teens don’t have much energy left for more social interactions with their parents – and rudeness results. 
Lack of understanding:  Most teens aren’t fully aware of the impact of their rude behaviour on their parents.  They don’t really know how parents feel when they are ignored or snapped at.  They don’t fully appreciate or understand that their rudeness seems like a rejection or a lack of caring or appreciation.  Having not experienced  parenthood themselves, they are often ignorant of how much their parents care about having a positive relationship with them, nor how much it hurts or disappoints them.
Lack of practice in switching attention:  Teen brains are not good at changing focus or switching attention as quickly as adult brains.  When teens are in the middle of another train of thought, or absorbed by something, they are physically less capable of quickly changing their focus of attention onto what a parent is saying.  This often feels rude to observers.
No costs to being rude and no benefits of being polite:  Some teens live in families where they are regularly rude and never experience any problems or costs to this rude behaviour.  Mum or Dad don’t like it, but they don’t talk about it or respond to it.  At the same time, if they do make the effort to be courteous, no-one seems to notice.  From a teen’s perspective, there is not much point exerting effort and energy into being courteous when it really doesn’t seem to matter either way.
Lack of skill in being polite:   at times, polite behaviour is more complex than we think.  For example, as adults, we are practised in asking questions of others, responding to their emotional state, being aware of effort people have made for us, knowing how to apologise without grovelling – and so on.  These skills are not that easy, and given teens have had much less practice in them than adults, they often simply don’t know what to say or do.

So now what?  It helps a lot for parents to play detective and figure out which of these factors are impacting on a teenagers’ rudeness.  Once parents know what is contributing to the rudeness, it helps them feel less guilty, less angry, less frustrated – and they usually have a few more ideas about what to do in response. Options as to how to respond include:

Ignoring the behaviour (if it’s relatively minor) and carrying on as normal.  We are all snappy with family at times, and sometimes it’s not worth making a slip up an issue.  This doesn’t mean we are condoning how the teen has spoken, but it means we are allowing for it being a bit harder to be polite for the teen than an adult.

Making a very short, extremely calm statement at the time about how the comment made you feel:  “I’m sure you didn’t intend it that way, but that felt quite harsh to me”, or “When you ignore me, it feels as though you really don’t care about what I’m saying”.
Walking away from the teen – very calmly and without showing anger – sending a message that we don’t appreciate the way they have spoken.

Calmly refuse to help them out with something after they have been rude:  For example “Sorry mate, but I’m not really in the mood to drive you to Sally’s/help you with that essay/wash your uniform/make tea now, as I feel quite upset about our conversation just then.  Hopefully we will have a better time tomorrow night and I’ll do it then.”  Don’t yell and talk angrily – say it matter of factly.  But don’t back down either. 

Asking the teenager questions about the rudeness later, when they are in a better mood:  “It seemed you were a bit grumpy earlier tonight.  I know you don’t mean to talk in a rude way to me.  Is everything okay?”  OR:  “I noticed that you were talking in kind of a short way yesterday, and were forgetting to say please etc.  I know I can do that sometimes when I’m focussed on something else.  Was there any reason you were talking like that do you think?”

Being really, really specific and clear on what polite behaviour you would the teenager to work on.  It might be that we actually give them the actual words to say, for example, “I’d really like it if you could give me a brief apology when you forget to put your plate on the sink, like “sorry Mum” or something like that”.  OR, “It would be great if you could remember to ask me about my day most nights, after I’ve asked about yours.  It would make me feel like you cared”
Making sure you "model" polite behaviour:it goes without saying of course, that it is essential that we behave politely and courteously to teens ourselves.  Unless they see it in action, they are not going to learn it.
These are several equally valid options (and these are not the only ones) but the most important move you can make here is to stay calm and not take it personally.  Try not to yell, snap or be overly upset with the teenager. 
Rudeness in teenagers is not your fault – you are not a bad parent – and it’s not entirely their fault either – they are not bad teens.   Helping your teen act in courteous and kind ways takes a lot of patience, persistence and time.  Don’t give up on it, but don’t feel like it has to be accomplished tomorrow either. 
Good luck!

1 comment:

Stacy said...

I am so not looking forward to the teen years. I already get a bit of that attitude from the girl right now. I think the author forgot about how empathy is just not a natural emotion...it has to be learned. That narcissistic tendency in them to only focus on themselves is something they need to move past in order to participate in polite society.

I think it will be harder for this generation of kids with all the social media outlets they have, along with the ability to be anonymous and hateful to others. Hopefully us parents can keep it in check, but it seems like so many parents are just not paying attention. They need to play Angry Birds on their iPhone. ;/