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My teenager has no respect

QUESTION: How do i get my 15 year old son to accept responsibility, and not blame everyone else but himself for the simplist of things, He seems to have not a lot of respect for his family but plenty of respect for his peers, He likes to put people down, and use his power in knowledge to advance himself, even though we see through him and let him know that, He continues to say We don’t know anything, and things are different from when when you were young, (i am 41) we are not that much older than you, things are not that different from when we were also at school, etc

Sounds like you have a fairly normal 15-16 year old boy! (Girls are the same – except that where boys get aggressive girls get hysterical). When boys of this age can’t deal with a situation or can’t win an argument with reason they will quickly seek alternate remedies. As you are seeing, they will either lay blame elsewhere, accuse those around of not understanding, or attempt to demolish a person’s argument by making them emotionally weak. The critical underlying factor here is that they are not thinking straight. As a friend of mine always says ‘you can never win an argument with a teenager because arguments require reason’.

The first thing to consider here is how much of a change this behaviour is compared to 3 or 4 years ago. If your son has historically been allowed a lot of freedom and a lot of time when he has been responsible for himself, it is not surprising that now when he feels like a man (and probably looks like a man) that he wants to take total control. In that case the way of dealing with the problem should be heavily oriented towards helping him discover mature ways of dealing with arguments and relationships.

Secondly, when these behaviours are handled carefully, without over-reaction, over time the boy matures and the attitudes mellow (and the appreciation for the important adults in his life grows). To quote Mark Twain (circa 1900) “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.”

Some key steps you might like to try while he is growing up are:

1) Insulate yourself from the emotion. It is very hard to do this because kids can be so hurtful, but the moment you respond in kind you will lose your credibility and the argument. If you want your son to speak to you in a calm and respectful way, refuse to speak to him until he does. Every time you engage in the argument in his way you give him another reason to believe that you are not rational. It is quite amazing how quickly teens see irrationality in their parents and how slowly they see it in themselves.

2) Tie consequences to behaviours. In the end it is not a matter of who is right and who is wrong, it is a matter of who is the parent. Work the consequences out with him when he is calm and be certain to apply exactly the agreed consequence whenever he has behaved in an inappropriate way. Again this is hard to do but you do not have to justify your argument to your son. In fact his logic is so clouded by his emotion that he will never see your logic..

3) Be reasonable. A great way to begin to gain the respect of our kids is to listen to the whole of what they are saying and wherever possible to compromise. Sometimes we are so frustrated by the way they speak to us and others that we become unreasonable ourselves and the whole cycle escalates.

4) Praise the good. This seems like such an obvious and simplistic thing, but it is amazing how consistent, honest affirmation can quickly turn situations around. Not all that is negative about your son’s behaviour right now is about rebellion or insolence. It is almost certain that in some of it he is sub-consciously asking you to acknowledge that he is becoming a man. Every admission that you make is one that he doesn’t have to earn so he will gradually become less obstinate more accepting. Most importantly he will become confident enough in himself to not blame others for his failings. All of this is very desirable because as you are seeing his current method of earning maturity is not very mature!

5) Build the relationship. In the end problems like these are ultimately only solved by the quality of the relationship between the parent and the child. He will not become like you (your values, manners and beliefs) because you are right, he will become like you because he likes you. Look for ways to spend time with him away from all the issues that raise conflict. It might be going to a take away restaurant, or a drive to the city, or even watching TV with him. Initially these moments will have to be chosen carefully, and probably won’t last long, but over time they will build into the foundation of a great relationship.

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