Teaching teens respect takes effort, but you’ll be so glad you invested the time once you witness the results.

By Kacee Bree Jensen
Photo by Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Sadly, this is not an unusual sentiment. Parents feel overwhelmed by their teens' entitled, disrespectful attitude and feel at a loss for how to reverse it. Newsflash: It is possible to learn how to respect parents as a teenager—and it’s possible for your teen to put those lessons to use. While it takes work, you’ll be oh-so glad you took the time to teach respect to your teenager.

If we think that they will mature and grow out of the disrespectful phase, we are so wrong. Respect is learned, relearned and practiced. Teaching teens respect for adults is also teaching them to respect themselves. When teens learn to speak with kindness to authority, they will learn to interact with all kinds of people. Future bosses, heads of college admissions, professors, future spouses. We are training our kids to be successful contributors to society, and respecting authority is a huge part of that. If your teen is lashing out at you, causing you to want to lock yourself in a room, or you just feel overwhelmed by their behavior, things need to change ASAP for your emotional health and theirs. It will only get worse if they aren’t held accountable for their behavior. So what can you do about it? (P.S. Here’s the right way to praise and compliment your teen.)

Teaching Teens Respect and Kindness

Teenagers want few things more than respect, but they don’t always realize that they too need to give it, too. As parents, we often walk on eggshells when it comes to communicating with our teens. We don’t want to offend them or their friends; we don’t understand the social media culture they live in; and we don’t know the right terms or phrases to use to make sure they feel respected. They sense that insecurity and often take advantage of it.

Yes, we need to respect our kids but also expect respect in return. Kids need a parent first, then a friend. They need someone to be the authority and set the standard of how to treat people. Learning respect at home hopefully will carry over to how they treat teachers, coaches, and others. (Can you guess what we’ve selected as the most important thing we can teach our daughters?)

We are constantly teaching peer-to-peer kindness—which we need to continue—but what about vertical kindness? I’ll admit when I was a teen my mom would say “Kacee, you do all this good. You volunteer, you help your friends, but you’re not very kind to me.” Not showing kindness to our parents is not a new thing for teens, but it seems to have gotten worse. We often feel intimidated to have those corrective conversations with our kids. I hear all the time from other parents: “I don’t want my daughter to be mad at me.”

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7 Ways to Teach Respect to a Teenager

Most teens have their moody moments, as do we, but the consistent, entitled behavior needs to stop (for your sanity and the health of your family). Instill how to be a respectful teenager with these strategies:

Write out your family’s boundaries with your partner.  Communicate them to your teen and stay consistent. They know what’s expected and what the consequences are. Writing boundaries removes the emotion and makes it straight forward so they the expectations and the consequences.

Get involved in your child’s device and social media life. Behavior is influenced by things going on their phone.

Related: How Pressure to Get Likes and Followers Hurts Teens

Remember that kids need boundaries. Stay strong when you receive pushback and outbursts. Remember when you were a teen? It's an insecure, uncertain time. They need your guidance and consistency. In my experience, it takes about a month to see change as you’re teaching your teen respect. 

Be a united front with the other parent whether together or not. It’s unacceptable to disrespect the other parent. Model this if you are divorced. It does your child a disservice to disrespect their parent in front of them. I co-parent so I know how vital it is for the child to have a healthy relationship with all parents, steps included.

Remember YOU are the adult. Arguing back and getting emotional with them is not beneficial in the heat of the moment. If you need to remove yourself from the situation to calm down, do so and address the issue when you are ready. Our kids are often looking for a reaction from us. It’s so easy to get frustrated and lash out. Set an example of how to handle conflict. Remember: They are pushing and testing the boundaries. 

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Remember you love them. See them for who they are, not their behavior. Don’t give up on them. Put in the time and work to help them readjust where needed and become the people you know they can be. (Discover 7 ways to strengthen your bond with your teen.)

Take your kids to volunteer. Service trips in different parts of the country or around the world change people. It is hard not to appreciate what you have when you get out of your comfort zone and see how others live. How do we want our world to look in a decade when these teens are leading? Let’s help our them adjust their thinking to be the great generation we hope they can be. Too much of a commitment for now? Start by teaching your teen respect by giving back and being kind online.

Kacee Bree Jensen is the founder of Let's Talk Teens, a place parents and teens can go to find resources and tools to navigate the modern world we are living in. Kacee is a youth advocate, speaker, contributor, parenting coach, and mom of four including a teen, who has spent the last 16 years helping families, schools, and communities across the country navigate the ups and downs of the teen years. 

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