Dealing with backtalk and encouraging chores

By Jim DeBrosse

When other adults tell me what a well-mannered and respectful young man my son is, I thank them for the compliment.

But inside my head, a voice is screaming, "You can't possibly mean the same 15-yearold boy who barely manages a grunt in answer to 'good morning,' or who barks 'I don't care' when told something he doesn't want to hear."

There's no need to stop the presses when I say that today's teenagers can be incredibly rude to their parents. They say things to us that we would have never dared say to our own parents. Why? Because if we had said them, it would have brought down their almighty wrath in ways we can now only imagine.

What accounts for this generational sea change is the subject for a whole other column, but for now, let's just say that's the way it is and we lucky parents have got to deal with it the best we can.

First and foremost (and, believe me, I learned this the hard way), today's parents must stay calm in the face of outright teen defiance, no matter how much it makes you grind your teeth.

I used to retaliate against my son's backtalk with 10 times the volume and rudeness, until I eventually realized two things. One, while trying to assert my adult authority, I was acting even more immature than he was. Two, more often than not, my son wasn't even aware he had been rude to me.

The result of our shouting matches was a mutual spiral of hurt and disbelief.

Backing away from direct confrontation, however, shouldn't mean giving in to your teenagers. I may let the backtalk slide these days, but I will not be moved from the core standards I have set for my children.

Those include doing their chores when I ask them to, meeting their nightly curfews, keeping me informed of where they are and completing their homework on time, without my assistance.

What I have discovered is that, even after loudly refusing to comply, my son will usually go ahead and do what I asked him to do anyway -- as long as I don't push my case.

"Son, you promised to mow the lawn today."

"No, I won't! I made plans already!"

"It takes 15 minutes."

"No! I don't care!"

I'll retreat to my basement lair and, after a couple of deep calming breaths, I hear the lawn mower fire up outside.

When my son finishes, I inspect. If it's a good job, I tell him so. If it's not, I'll calmly point out what else needs to be done.

Outright disobedience still demands punishment, and when I ground my son, he knows that he is grounded regardless of any amount of backtalk. If he takes off to a friend's house in defiance, he knows that, like a hormone-seeking missile, I will find him and I will embarrass him -- in ways he can only imagine.

  • DATE: July 4, 2009

  • PUBLICATION: Dayton Daily News (OH)

 

Copyright, 2009, Cox Ohio Publishing. All rights reserved.

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