When your daughter behaves disrespectfully towards you, it can take a toll on your emotional health. As difficult as it is, it’s important to gain some perspective and take action. Evaluate the situation from a neutral point of view. As a parent, you need to take a step back to gauge the difference between typical adolescent behavior and what is something more serious. You can monitor your own behavior and parenting style to strive for the best possible outcome for your daughter, your relationship and your sanity.
So why is your teenage daughter mean to you? Teens are progressing through physical, intellectual and emotional changes.
- A teen can be unaware of how their behavior affects others.
- A teen may see a parent as a safe person to vent frustrations.
- A teen may indulge in disrespectful or rebellious behavior to feel more in control of her life and relationships.
Many parents are desperate to cut through the behavior patterns and angry emotion to reach teens. The biggest challenge is to see the situation objectively.
What to Do: The Big Picture
Create a parenting journal. Track interactions with your teen to examine daily patterns. Compare your teen’s actions to typical adolescent behavior. Examine your parenting style and create a discipline program to guide your daughter toward respectful behavior.
If your teen’s behavior is widely off the mark of what other adolescents exhibit in areas like academics, friendships and self-care, reach out to a school counselor or a therapist.
Focus on Behaviors – Not On the Cause of Behaviors
While the journaling process may give you some insight into why your daughter behaves disrespectfully toward you, it may help to focus instead on the target behaviors that you want.
Your daughter may not know why she acts the way she does. Teens experience a maelstrom of physical, intellectual and emotional changes, and they often cannot see past their own noses. Or your daughter may be venting her frustrations in a way that feels safe – she’s counting on your unconditional love to allow her to act this way without taking responsibility for her behavior. A teen may also be indulging in disrespectful behavior in order to feel more in control in life and in your relationship.
Some Other Developmental Causes to Behaving Disrespectfully
Adults just don’t get it (They think). Teens often feel as though they have the answers to life’s persistent questions. They often perceive that adults, (especially parents, but also teachers), don’t seem to understand what’s happening in any given situation and what is an appropriate response.
Forming strong opinions is a time-honored way for an adolescent to separate from parents, a process they must complete. It’s typical for teenagers to view adults in their lives through a critical lens. It helps them separate from parents and forge their own path, a critical life-stage development.
While you can’t control the psychological stages of human adolescence like the need to define a separate path, you do have some influence about how your daughter expresses her critical perspective.
Remain Neutral and Describe the Interactions
In order to see the relationship objectively, it may help to begin to track the interactions between you in your journal and try to detect some patterns.
Two Guidelines for your parenting journal – The idea is to gather objective information about your teen’s behavior and your own responses.
- Despite the hurt you are likely feeling, it’s not helpful to compile a dossier on disrespectful behavior. You’re examining your daughter’s overall state of mind and the dynamics between you. This will help you to form a plan to change the situation and determine how serious it might be.
- It is difficult to remain neutral when you feel attacked by someone that you love. Yet, keeping calm and objective is the single most effective strategy for facing – and dealing with – mean, disrespectful behavior.
Some questions to consider:
- Is your teen treating only you disrespectfully or is this behavior reflected in her interaction with other adults?
- Is it happening in school or just at home? You’ll need to check in discreetly with counselors and/or teachers.
- Is it occurring in response to some specific life event or stressful situation in your daughter’s life?
- Does your teen seem to function well in other areas of her life, such as maintaining friendships, grades and care of self?
- How frequently does the behavior occur?
- Are your current discipline methods effective in reducing the behavior and teaching replacement behaviors?
- What has your teen said and done in each negative interaction? Be specific as possible.
- What has your teen said and done in each positive interaction? Again, be specific. You can build on positive interactions.
Other strategies that will help you remain neutral while exploring the patterns:
How does it make you feel?
- In addition to describing behaviors you see, include a reflection piece in each journal entry. Include a few sentences about how the behavior made you feel. This can be a powerful tool for resolving those feelings later, either with a trained therapist, or possibly with your teen herself.
Trial and Error
- Identify possible ways you could either change the pattern of interaction or repeat the successful way that you handled it. This is a section that acknowledges the trial and error of your relationship work.
Help Your Teen Focus on Behavior by Setting Clear Boundaries and Consistent Consequences
Develop a behavior contract for your teen (See related: How to Talk to Your Teen).
The information that you observe will allow you to develop a behavior contract. Some families create a verbal agreement, but there’s something powerful in putting clear expectations in print to define acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
- Sort the behaviors you’ve described into two groups:
- What are the most frequent and critical disrespectful behaviors that you need to address?
- What are just typical teen behaviors that show frustration, or blowing off steam? (eye-rolling, muttering under breath, pouting, etc). These are the behaviors that you can live with.
- Make a list of the top three behaviors that are clearly disrespectful and cannot continue. This may be name calling, swearing, or getting into your personal space during a discussion. **If you feel a physical threat from your teen at any time, call a professional counselor to help.
- Set a priority level for each behavior. In order to focus yours and your teen’s attention effectively, a behavior contract should focus on 2-3 target behaviors at a time. Changing all behaviors at once may be difficult to manage.
For example, one element of a behavior contract may involve the use of abusive words or swearing.
I understand that each time I use abusive words and/or swear at Mom, Dad or ____, I will lose ____________
(access to cellphone, television, car, social events) privilege for _____( 1 day, 2 days, etc)
I understand that if I use abusive words and/or swear at my sister/brother/_______, I will lose __________ for _______.
Increase Your Chances of Success
- During a calm moment, discuss the behavior contract with your teen. It’s most effective if your teen will agree to the terms that you’ve outlined. If your teen refuses, just post the contract in a place as a reminder. It may help to maintain an electronic copy as a back up.
- Make sure that the consequence matches the infraction. For example, don’t overreact and ground your teen for weeks for one incidence of swearing. The overreaction will take the focus off their own behavior and put it on the consequence itself. This could lead to your teen refusing to “buy in” to changing the behavior and set the stage for further rebellion.
- To be effective, don’t underreact either. Calmly tell your daughter that the behavior is unacceptable and enforce the consequence. Don’t engage in a drawn-out conversation; just enforce a reasonable consequence.
- Model respectful and supportive behavior. As the adult, It’s important that you set the tone in your own responses. Be respectful of your daughter at all times, even when you feel upset or angry. Let her know in words and actions that you love her.
- Avoid the trap of treating your daughter like a peer or as an adult. Despite outward appearances, your daughter is not all grown up inside. She needs your help to learn how to act with respect even when she feels justified in projecting other, more negative behaviors.
- All teens are equipped with radar to detect hypocrisy. In other words, your teen is also watching how you manage conflicts with others. If you indulge in nasty exchanges with other adults or speak ill of others behind their backs, you lose credibility in your daughter’s eyes. To be effective, your actions must match your words.
See this article for tips about increasing the trust between you.
- Create a united front with other adults in your daughter’s life. If your daughter continues to treat you with disrespect, it harms both your relationship and her development.
- If you co-parent with your daughter’s father, grandparents or other guardians, you need to form a plan to deliver consistent feedback about the type of behavior that is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Experiencing a set of consistent behavioral expectations from every adult in her life will deliver a strong message that it’s not just you being overly sensitive, unreasonable, or another rationalization that allows the behavior to continue.
- Seek out a friend or counselor to listen. While your daughter needs a parent to set limits, you need a friend. A friend or a counselor may help you regain perspective, keep your resolve and to support you during what may be a very difficult time.
- Acknowledge progress in your daughter’s behavior. As your daughter improves in her choices to treat you and others with respect, find small ways to express that you see – and appreciate – the changes. As she continues to progress over time, reward her effort with increased privileges.
While you may not notice an improvement right away, consistency in defining appropriate and inappropriate behaviors should help your daughter make better choices over time in her interactions.