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If you engage the argument with your teen, you're just going to get more of it. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

If you engage the argument with your teen, you’re just going to get more of it.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Your teenager has a smart mouth, and you’re a little sick of it.  You don’t know how much more you can take if they keep talking back to you when you ask them to do something.  It’s plain rude and it’s really frustrating.  You don’t understand why you are the recipient of the nasty tone when you see them be perfectly nice and respectful to other adults.  What do you do?


One really important step to take is to check yourself.  Are you rude to them?  Do you get defensive easily?  Do you engage their arguing and get just as nasty?  Those things won’t help.  However, I know how incredibly hard it is not to get baited into an argument.  It’s almost impossible actually.


That is the next step though; do not get baited into the discussion.  At first just fail to respond when your teen has a rude tone with you.  They will probably comment on this.  You might make eye contact and then just walk away.  If you think you can say it evenly and calmly, you can gently tell them they are not speaking in a very nice tone and then walk away.  The main point is that you don’t want to escalate the situation.  Keep in mind once your teen gets into talking back mode, they’re not listening anyhow so getting louder won’t really make the point you’re trying to make.


Gently and quietly administer a consequence for their being rude to you.  This has to be done in such a way that they realize if they continue things will just get worse for them.  One time as a teenager I flipped my mom off in a conversation.  She very calmly told my my friends could no longer spend the night that night (it was a Friday), but instead had to leave by 9pm.  I protested loudly and rudely.  She told me that because I was continuing to be disrespectful they could now only come over until 7pm.  I tried one more time and she just said, “6:00.”  That was it.  I got quiet.  I tried to apologize a little later and she said she accepted my apology, but the friends still had to leave at 6.  She said she looked forward to Saturday night when I’d have the opportunity to try again.  She really only had to do things like this a few times before I knew I shouldn’t speak to her disrespectfully or I would lose things that mattered to me, quickly.


On the other hand, my dad was always willing to negotiate with my sister and me.  As a result, he got a lot more sass than my mom every did.  He would sometimes give into our whining and begging, which actually rewarded our bad behavior.  He would sometimes get worn out if we argued with him and then give in.  We knew this and so we pushed.  We talked back to him a lot.  My mom used to tell him not to negotiate, but I don’t think he knew how to just be calm, yet firm.


If you can quietly stand your ground, not engage when your teen is rude, set a limit and maybe continue to restrict if they carry on, you will probably make some headway on the talking back.  I know these techniques are easier said than done, but you can do it!  It will make your relationship with your teenager a lot more enjoyable.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT