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5 Reasons Why Your Teen Is Disrespectful And Defiant

5 Reasons Why Your Teen Is Disrespectful And Defiant

Parenting is hard, but being the object of disrespect is one of the most difficult things to navigate as a parent. All tweens and teens can demonstrate disrespectful behaviors during these challenging growing-up years. It can be frustrating for parents to understand why their kids are being so rude and acting this way. Many moms have told me how they feel at a loss as to what to do.  That’s why I want to share advice and information on these 5 reasons why your teen is disrespectful and defiant while also guiding you on what strategies DON’T work (read about that HERE) and choosing more effective ways to respond to your tween or teen (read about that HERE).

First of all, disrespectful behavior can take on many forms – 

  • Eye–rolling
  • Moodiness
  • Arguing
  • Name-calling
  • Ignored requests
  • Giving the silent treatment
  • Snide comments
  • Talking back
  • Swinging Insults
  • Screaming and yelling
  • Slamming doors
  • Disregarding and breaking rules
  • Acting like they don’t care
  • Sneaking around
  • Lying
  • And even throwing or breaking things

How do you feel when you are disrespected? 

When our kids behave in these negative ways, we can be left feeling: 

  • angry, 
  • sad, 
  • hurt, 
  • powerless, 
  • overwhelmed, 
  • confused, 
  • frustrated, 
  • beaten down, 
  • exhausted, 
  • And even sometimes wanting to run away.

I want you to know that what you are experiencing with your child is common. You are not alone in dealing with this issue! To navigate this challenging phase, let’s first understand why your tween or teen is defiant and disrespectful.

5 Reasons Why Your Teen Is Disrespectful And Defiant

Their brain is rewiring.

Neuroimaging studies have changed our understanding of adolescent behavior. Research suggests that tweens and teens often aren’t intentionally making poor choices and decisions. Around age 11, the prefrontal cortex, which regulates emotions and reasoning, undergoes massive reconstruction (in a sense, they are losing their minds!) The emotional side of the brain is literally disconnected from the reasoning side of the brain. (Read all about this HERE.)

This rewiring causes high emotions, mood swings, angry outbursts, crying for no reason, impulsivity, difficulty with executive functioning, and emotional regulation, to name a few—and these can, in large part, be attributed to the changes that are going on in their brains.

Your adolescent is developing independence.

Mild disrespect can actually be a signal that they are fighting for independence as they move towards adulthood. 

Psychologists refer to this as the “Individuation stage.” 

Here’s what you can expect and what is a necessary and normal part of their development:

  • They want autonomy and will often react negatively to being told what to do. 
  • They will push boundaries to form their own identity and may become more private and secretive. 
  • They will argue and challenge your beliefs and values, which is a way for them to define themselves independently of you, their parent.
  • They will want to be their own boss even if they lack the skills to do so. 
  • They will disagree with you about something that clearly is black, and they’re saying it’s white. 
  • They will think they have all the answers.
  • They will try new behaviors and adopt fads to fit into a particular group because they want to belong. 

While this can often be difficult and even painful for us, it is developmentally appropriate, and it’s important that we provide a safe place for them to do this. 

They lack the skills and maturity to navigate their emotions and conflict.

Who reading this enjoys conflict?

Who enjoys being told what to do or being told “no?”

Who here loses it sometimes? You are in good company!

We all can wind up yelling, getting impatient, or having our own temper tantrums when someone pushes us to the limit, we are stressed, or something isn’t going well.

And we are adults! If this is hard for us, imagine how much harder it is for our tweens and teens, whose brains are rewiring and they haven’t learned emotional regulation or skills yet.

We’ve had years of practice, but it’s still hard for us to navigate stress and the pressures we can feel when we are faced with conflict and unpredictable situations. How much more so for our kids who have brains on fire and haven’t had the practice?

The truth is…

Disrespectful behavior is one of the inappropriate ways kids, especially teenagers, try to solve their problems. 

Kids can feel powerless in the face of stress, rules and expectations,

Talking back and showing disrespect is one way they try to take some power back. 

They are also not yet skilled at navigating their big emotions, solving their problems, or knowing what they need, which can create feelings of powerlessness and frustration.

They are stressed, anxious, or upset about something.

When they enter their tween and teen years, they suddenly face more responsibilities and pressures socially, emotionally, and academically, which leads to more stress and anxiety.

Greater independence = pressures and responsibilities can = more stress and anxiety.

When kids are disrespectful, there may be underlying issues that need addressing. Often, they don’t act out to be difficult but are struggling with something they may not openly share – this could be something that happened at school, issues with a friend, anxiety over an upcoming test, or simply a need for more personal space.

Chances are, most of the time, they’re truly not acting this way to be difficult and make our lives miserable.

Most tweens and teens will downplay their losses or disappointments, saying they aren’t a big deal. They often do this in an attempt to minimize the pain they’re feeling. By acting as if these setbacks don’t matter, they try to shield themselves from the emotional impact. This coping mechanism can make it harder to recognize when you have a kid who is struggling because they might not openly express their true feelings. 

This is where it’s important to be attentive and perceptive, looking beyond their words to understand the underlying emotions and create a safe space for your teen to share their feelings – more on that HERE in Part 3.

They need to simply be heard and we are not listening. 

It can be so easy to only respond to their disrespectful behavior instead of truly tuning in to what they are trying to tell us. 

Teens and teens often act out because they feel unheard and misunderstood. They may be dealing with stress, anxiety, or personal challenges that they don’t know how to articulate. By focusing solely on their outward behavior, we might miss the opportunity to address the root causes of their distress.

Of course, if our kids are acting out, breaking rules, and being rude, we would want to address the disrespect and intervene with any dangerous behavior! (Read more on this HERE) It’s also so important we try to figure out what issues our kids might be experiencing and what emotions our kids are feeling that could be at the root of their negative behaviors and attitudes. Do your best to listen intently to what they are trying to tell you and understand things from their perspective.

I hope learning why your teen is disrespectful and defiant helped you better understand your child. In Part Two and Part Three of this series, I dive deep into how parents can respond to their kids’ defiant and disrespectful behavior in ways that foster effective change and positive outcomes. Part two outlines strategies that don’t work HERE, and part three offers productive ways to respond HERE.

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