I almost jokingly entitled this “Dealing with Back Talk From Those Pesky Teens” but I didn’t want to confuse people with my sarcasm. What’s wrong with that title? I’ll explain a little later on.
I have a 13 who looks like he’s 15. He just surpassed me in height and that says a lot because I’m not short. I started wearing heels more often just to make sure I stay taller than him a little longer. I might make him shave his head soon too (I jest, I’d never force him to cut his hair).
We began struggling with him talking back to us not too long ago. It really took me by surprise because he’s normally a very respectful, mild mannered child. I think that is where I went wrong. I’ve still been thinking of him as a child.
We were at taekwondo camp this last week and he was picking out his nunchucks, or numb-chucks as all my kids insist on calling them (sahng ja bong for those in the know) and he grabbed a child sized pair. I told him, “Put those ones back. You’re an adult.” Those words stopped me cold. You’re an adult. Holy crap! He’s not a child, he’s a young adult. When did that happen?!
That’s exactly where I had been going wrong. He’s a young adult and I’ve been treating him like a child. Expecting him to obey me without question. Telling him to do things rather than asking. My tone of voice with him was very different than it would be if I were talking to an adult. That’s gotta be frustrating for him! And then I imagined how I would feel if someone talked to me like I talk to him. You know what? I would good and well talk back.
I’ve been now trying to make a more conscious effort to speak to him like I would any other adult. He is still a child in many ways yet, after all, he is only 13. But in many ways he is very much an adult and I need to treat him as such.
Instead of demanding he do his chores, I remind him they need to be done and allow him the freedom to choose when to do them (within reason, of course, we have living creatures that depend on him). There are consequences to not getting his chores done but they are directly related to not getting the chore done. For instance, if he forgets to take the trash out to the road, he has to pay for the week of missed trash pick up. If he does it a second week, he has to buy me a new trash can. Now, rather than waiting for me to tell him to do his chores, he gets them done right away. He figured out that if he does them early in the day, he won’t have to worry about forgetting to do them later. Plus, he said he loves the look on my face when I ask him to do a chore and he tells me he already did it. I’ll admit, I do sometimes lose it when I want to make dinner and there are no clean dishes to even make dinner with. I try to remember to take a deep breath and inform them that there will be no dinner if there are no dishes to cook with or to eat off of.
We also talk about how back talk is disrespectful. I’ve told him, rather than getting snotty, just tell me in a respectful manner what is upsetting him. I’ll listen. Respect goes both ways. Show them respect and they’ll desire to show you the same respect.
Since I changed my mindset, the back talk stopped. Take note of that. I changed my behavior first and his behavior changed as a result. I didn’t demand that he change.
And this whole experience made me think, should I be talking differently to my younger children who are still children?
Do we really want our children to be trained to obey adults without question? Do we want children to accept that they are subhuman, unworthy of respect? I sure don’t. I’d much rather have a child who questions authority than a child who blinding accepts it. I’m not raising sheep. I’m raising world changers.
So back to the title I almost used “Dealing with Back Talk From Those Pesky Teens.” Back talk? Maybe not. Maybe they are just expressing frustration at being treated like a lesser human. Kids (and adults) do things for a reason. Address the cause and the symptoms (behaviors) should subside. Pesky? Gah, don’t speak so negative about your kids. Teen? I think I’m going to strike that word from my dictionary and replace it with “young adult”. The term “teen” wasn’t coined until the 1900′s. The term teen carries with it vision of immaturity, shirking responsibility, and an extended childhood. Before that, they were adults. You’d be surprised how kids will rise to our high expectations the same way they are more than happy to sink to our low expectations.
So my wise words of wisdom regarding teens? Stop thinking of them as children or even teens and start thinking of them and treating them as the adults they are. I’m still working on this. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to apologize for disrespecting them and talking to them like they were subhuman. But I do apologize and they respect me for it and we move on. I’m still a work in progress.