5 Ways to Check the Teen Attitude at the Door

If you have a pre-teen or teen, you have probably encountered “the attitude.” I can imagine all those who have a teen nodding their head in agreement as you recall the condescending stare, rolling eyes, exasperating sigh, impatient shifting of weight, and sarcastic tone of voice. If you are like me, just thinking about it raises your blood pressure. As hard as it is to believe, this new “attitude” does mean that your child is reaching a new level of maturity and independence…and that’s a positive thing. The “teen attitude” is often an attempt to assert some independence from the parental control they experienced and needed as a child. However, their brains are still not fully developed. The emotional networks of their brain are more developed than the planning networks of their brain. As a result, their words come out laced with sarcasm and anger while revealing little forethought into whether this helps or hinders them reaching their goal. Sarcasm, by the way, also shows growing mental ability. They have matured to the level of knowing that tone impacts the subtle meaning of what is said, expressing a “double meaning.” They have not learned how to plan ahead in using that new understanding, but…. (Sarcasm, a new mental skill…woohoo, let’s celebrate.)

In their growing desire to become “their own person,” our teens want to know how everything will affect them. They have also learned how to look at the world through someone else’s eyes. Combine perspective taking (a fairly new ability for pre-teens), wanting to know how everything affects me, a well-developed emotional brain, and an underdeveloped planning brain…and you get a teen overly concerned with every little blemish or misplaced hair.  This translates into “attitude,” complaining about appearance, getting overly upset about seemingly small issues, thinking the world revolves around their schedule…you know the drill.

Even though a teen attitude is a normal part of their development, we still want to help them grow beyond that attitude. We still want to help them learn to use their planning brain, to shift concern from themselves to others, and to speak respectfully. Understanding some of the origins of their “attitude” merely helps us not take it personal, remain calm (rather than throttle them as they roll their eyes), and discipline with love. With that in mind, here are 5 ways to help your teen mature, in spite of their attitude.

1.   Talk to your teen when they show their “attitude.” Don’t get an attitude back. Take a deep breath and respond with love. Ask them what is going on in their life. Sometimes an attitude flows out of frustration over problems at school, hurt feelings in peer relationships, or fear about some future event. Sometimes all we need to do to lose the attitude is listen…listen well.

2.   When possible, ignore the attitude…especially when your teen still follows through with your requests and rules. Realize that some attitude is normal and even beneficial in helping your teen establish healthy independence. Knowing this, don’t respond to them when they approach you with an attitude. As you ignore the attitude, your teen will learn that they do not get what they want when they ask with “attitude.” ignore the evil eye, the rolling eye, the exasperated sigh…realize that these too shall pass.  

3.   If your teen’s attitude turns to name-calling, defiance, or disrespect, discipline. Attitude is fleeting, disrespect needs adjusting. Be prepared to discipline. Know the natural consequences and calmly discipline in response to disrespect and defiance. Stand strong to say, “No, I don’t want to lend my car to someone who treats me so disrespectfully.” Or, “No, I won’t give you money for the movie because you didn’t do the chores you said you would do.”

4.   Point out sarcasm when it occurs and explain how sarcasm affects the person hearing it…like you. Encourage them to say what they feel and want directly, politely, and without sarcasm. Even if they don’t get what they want, the discussion will still prove more satisfying for both parties involved. Oh…and watch your own sarcasm. It is hard to end sarcasm in your teen if they hear it from you all the time!

5.   Avoid being all things to your teen. You do not have to serve as cook, chauffer, bank, tutor, clothes washer, secretary, water bottle washer, alarm clock, and schedule manager for your teen. Sure, you will help in all these areas, but teach your teen to do these tasks independently as well. Doing so will strengthen that planning brain. Put them in charge of some meaningful household chores to teach them that they have a role in keeping “our home” running smoothly.

5 tips to help deal with the teen attitude. If you’d like more information on the teen brain, check out
A Parent’s Guide to the Teen Brain. And, keep reading our blog for more ideas.

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