What to do if your teenager insults you in a conversation

Let’s say that the time has come for you to have a tough conversation with your teenager about behaviour that has crossed the line. But, then, from out of nowhere, they get so frustrated that they insult you to your face. Of course, you will need to respond, but how?

This kind of event can be shocking when your teenager resorts to this type of behaviour - and it’s often hard to know what to say at that moment. Sure, you might take umbrage, and tell them off. But, I want to put it to you, that there are other ways to regain control of a situation. Keep in mind that most teenagers spit insults at others like this when they are feeling pretty miserable in themselves or backed into corner - and they lash out. You might be tempted to lash back at them however a handy all-purpose come back can be useful. Look them straight in the eye and say,

You must have had a pretty bad day to feel the need to say something that nasty to me when we are trying to work out solution to a problem. I hope you feel better.

In her book on everyday manners, Amy Alkon says that by expressing sympathy for a spiteful insulter in this way, you’ve accomplished three things:

  •  You’ve refused to accept their turning you into their victim.
  •  You’ve come off classy and bigger than they are and,
  • You’ve managed to send the message that what you talking about is not about you, it’s about a real life problem that you need to sort out with them.

One of the main challenges for parents of teenagers is holding them in the conversation, by not spooking them so they run off. That said, you should go into these types of conversations with the reasonable expectation that the older they are, the better-able their mind is - at not flipping out. Most of what we see in teenagers who behave badly is because it’s become a habit and not because they are not capable of containing their frustration. By assuming that they bring a degree of self-control to any encounter, you can ask them to give what is reasonable and legitimate – that when you ask them, they can exert come self-control. What you can do by challenging them like we have seen here, is to manoeuvre the conversation in such a way that they will put their best foot forward. Sometimes we need the people who love us, to help us to do our best and this is not the least at times when we look ugly. As a parent, you can help them assume greater self-control.

Michael Hawton, Psychologist and Author (Engaging Adolescents and Talk Less Listen More), www.parentshop.com.au/bloghttps://www.facebook.com/EngagingAdolescents/
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