We all know that being condescending is rude and hurtful. We cannot stand it when someone is demeaning towards us.
Teenagers are the masters of using condescension to frustrate you and to express their frustration. They will often talk to you in a tone of voice that gets your blood boiling. Teens will retort, sometimes call you names, and roll their eyes. They often believe that parents are out of touch and do not understand things as they are today. They also don’t always have the ability to remain clam and rational when they get overwhelmed. This is developmentally normal. However, there are some things you can do to keep the situation deescalated.
It is difficult not to talk right back to your teen in they way they talk to you. However, it is possible to stop them from talking like that without joining them. The louder and ruder they become, the softer you’ll want to be. The more they attempt to negotiate, the firmer you become. Let them know softly that if they do not stop, they will lose freedoms bit by bit. It is important to make it their choice to change their tone. In other words, help them realize they can talk to you rudely, but if they choose to do so, they are also choosing related consequences. Make sure you follow-through on the consequences. Threatening a punishment without following through is begging for future disrespect. If you don’t follow-through, then you are essentially telling your child that their rudeness is effective for getting what they want. This means they will certainly use the same tone next time you say ‘no’ when they want to hear ‘yes.’
Be careful that you are not condescending toward your teenager. I have seen this happen over and over in my office. A teenager is trying to tell their parents that something hurts them, makes them angry, or overwhelms them. The parent dismisses the teen’s feelings as ridiculous. This frustrates the teen, and he or she is likely to either shut down or become mean. Whether or not the teen’s feelings are easy to understand, the parent who dismisses a teen’s feelings about a situation conveys a condescending message. It is possible to acknowledge your teen’s feelings without necessarily giving into their demand. Help them realize you can work on a solution to their concern with them. Facing a problem together is always more effective anyhow. Whatever you do, try not to repeat your position over and over again. If they either can’t or choose not to understand you the first time, this probably won’t change unless you rephrase what you’re saying.
Most of all, try to remember that it takes two to fight. You don’t have to fight back and you don’t have to be rude just because they are. I know that’s old advice, but it’s still a good reminder for all of us (including me!).
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT