Teenagers are seldom disrespectful without a reason, because every child wants to be loved and valued. They would not risk their feeling of security and inclusion for the sake of it. The following are the most common reasons for disrespect, especially when:
1. They feel unloved, unwanted and misunderstood. This is the main reason why teens go off the rails and behave badly. This is their way of getting back and hurting the parent for the lack of worth they feel. They do not have a strong sense of value and so the respect goes. Their behaviour is more like retaliation and revenge for not feeling loved and appreciated. Kids need to be shown love and affection daily. A simple hug, a kind word and positive reinforcement are essential to show value and appreciation and increase the teen's feeling of security and self-worth. Parents who were not shown outward affection themselves might feel awkward in this regard but affirming that teen regularly as a valued person is very important.
2. They are not affirmed or reinforced, but mainly criticised; their views and feelings are not respected either. This often happens in strict homes where there is too much discipline, too little slack and too many expectations which the teens find difficult to fulfil. They have no way of thriving as their own individual and the frustration is evident in disrespectful behaviour. Many parents are so keen for the child to develop in their own image and likeness, they forget that there is an independent person waiting to emerge and unwittingly stifle their growth. This of course causes resentment, anger and lack of respect. The main tip here is NOT to criticise before you praise. Always begin with praise when you have to be corrective and, where possible, don't criticise at all, simply affirm every desired or acceptable thing they do. In this way, you will bring desired behaviour to the fore and reduce the undesirable ones. ALWAYS try to compromise with the child's need and not just insist on your own. It shows respect for their feelings and aspirations and teaches them to respect yours too.
For example, when my children were growing up and started dating, they were requested to bring every new friend home. They could have them in their room but the door had to be always open and the friend had to leave by midnight. It meant that we did not have to worry where my teens were in the evenings; I did not try to control their lives and they had a chance to meet their friends openly instead of being furtive. It also showed the friends the standard of behaviour expected in our home.
3. They are emotionally hurting and in pain. Many children hurt for lots of reasons that their parents are not even aware of. Often the parents get the stick simply for being there, because there is no one else to blame. The child could be bullied, or being abused in some way, or has fallen out with peers, and disrespect to a parent makes up for the lack of support and good feeling the teen may perceive are missing. The best way to deal with this aspect is to talk to them often about their day, show concern for their life and activities without being intrusive. Wait until they are ready to open up. Be sensitive to when they might be unusually quiet or pre-occupied and be there for them when you sense they need your comfort.
4. They have been indulged and spoilt, not taught how to disagree in an assertive manner. Disrespect is rife in homes where parents have been permissive in bringing up their children and where there are few firm rules set for appropriate behaviour. It is easy for the child to push the boundaries and behave in a disrespectful way because they know no different and believe that kind of behaviour would be appropriate and accepted. In these permissive homes, the teens are often confused by the inconsistency in their treatment and bad behaviour is their way of rebelling against this. The best tips here are to be firm but fair with the child from as early as possible in their life, to be consistent but flexible with rules and to ensure that the boundaries for good behaviour are kept in place, and with some discretion. Every step along the way, make sure that teens are taught appropriate ways of asking for what they desire, disagreeing with decisions made and being able to deal with rejection. Those coping skills will then become routine in their behaviour and help to make them more confident, especially in the more competitive adult world.
5. They are copying parental behaviour. Children in homes where the parents do not treat each other with any respect, and where language is abusive, critical or inappropriate, tend to use those examples as their guidelines and behave accordingly. Parents teach their children not only through what they say, but most importantly, through what they DO. Children will pick up inappropriate and ambiguous behaviour when they have been set the wrong examples. The parents might not want that to happen but that is the only outcome where there is no other model to copy. The best tip in this instance is to behave in a manner which you wish your teen to adopt. Set the right tone and behaviour consistently and they are likely to follow because they will be able to make the right decision for themselves when they are faced with conflicting behaviours and have to choose.
The main thing to remember is that teens learn from their parents, both spoken and unspoken behaviour. To get the kind of teens we desire, simply reinforce the behaviour that is desired while quietly reducing more inappropriate ones, especially in an atmosphere of flexibility and mutual respect.