Rudeness is a natural side effect of the hormonal, environmental and mental changes of a child as he enters his teens. Parents were once teens themselves and can probably recall a number of times when they were rude themselves. But the fact that rudeness is commonplace in adolescence doesn’t make it right. Parents have a large responsibility in helping their teens adopt proper behavior. By using your position as a parent and engaging your teen in the right way, you can lead him in the right direction for positive behavioral change.
Engage your teen in a private conversation with the purpose of finding the root of the rudeness. During the conversation, your strategy should be listening, not speaking. Avoid the urge to interrupt or correct your teen’s thinking. Your one and only goal is to find out what’s eating your teen. Consider beginning the conversation by bringing up the fact that you’ve noticed she’s been rude. Bring this topic up in a non-judgmental way, such as by saying, “I’ve noticed you seem a little upset with me. May I ask why?” Given permission, your teen will most likely speak directly about her problem. Remember to listen to her entire explanation before correcting any misjudgments she’s made. Once you’ve located the issue, you can address it appropriately.
Maintain your position as a parent. Do not befriend your teen to get closer to him, as doing so puts yourself on an equal standing with him, virtually encouraging rudeness. You might have the urge to become friendlier with your child as he grows. This is natural; many parents react to a child’s new desire for privacy by stepping down to their level. Parents might believe this will strengthen the parent-teen bond and allow for more open communication, but this strategy often backfires, causing the parent to lose some of her authority.
Make your expectations clear. Use your position as a parent to address the main issue driving the rudeness. Emphasize your family’s rules and goals, showing how rudeness is an obstruction to your and your teen’s self-interest. For example, if your teen has been acting coldly toward you after you enrolled her in a weekend SAT course and you’ve located this enrollment as the main cause via a one-on-one conversation, explain why the SAT course is necessary and helpful to your teen. Do so with the goal of ameliorating her understanding of the reasons behind your actions. As neuroscientist Deborah Yurgelun-Todd of the Brain Imaging Laboratory in McClean Hospital points out, the physical maturity of teens conceals their relative lack of mental maturity. Teens are still reacting to their feelings instead of actively planning for the future. For this reason, you must use your position as the parent to push your teen in the right direction while simultaneously explaining to her that while she might not like the course of action, it is beneficial to her in the long run.
Focus on improving actions, not character. Avoid placing judgment on the teen’s character when discussing misbehavior and rudeness. As psychologist John Gottman, author of the book “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child,” points out, calling your teen “rude” is more likely to exacerbate the problem than help you restore your bond with your child. Instead, emphasize which actions are incorrect and how your teen can improve. A teen stubbornly refusing to go to a weekend SAT course, for example, might purposefully oversleep. Point out to your teen that these actions are actions of self-sabotage and that she has the choice to live up to your expectations of her. By staying away from labeling and name-calling, you are implicitly telling your teen that you believe she can change her behavior for the better. With your support, she will be more likely to reach your expectations.