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lighten bag

“Shut Up!! ” “You’re a jerk” “Whatever” “I hate you” “You’re a loser”

Any of these comments sound familiar? They represent the #1 parental complaint: “My kids don’t respect me!” It baffles most of us that kids today have become so brazen in how they respond to a parent’s request. We would never speak to our parents this way, is a common refrain.

But times have changed. We are not our parents. Our children are not us. They are pressured by our culture to be grown up, smart, sexual, and independent all before they leave the halls of middle school. It’s a tall order, and they do everything to make sure they don’t fail — even if that means using Mom and Dad as a verbal punching bag for a few years.

Parents get stuck when they are unsure of where to draw the line. Feeling disrespected, most of us respond with thoughtless comments and end up looking every bit like the moody, stubborn teen we are trying to control.

So what’s a self-respecting parent to do? Change it up.
We all think respect is the holy grail of parenting — the ultimate validation that you have done a good job. It’s not. We use “respect” as a catch phrase for a lot of things: compliance, efficiency, agreement. In others words, if my child doesn’t agree and efficiently comply with my request, they are disrespectful.

Really? I think respect is much bigger than how you feel about verbal jousting with your teen. It’s about valuing your relationship as a whole.

–Recognize that Friction Precedes Growth
If your child is pushing back, that means they see you as an authority figure, and you have been successful at establishing that role in their life. That’s a good foundation. Now we need to help them build their life by coaching and encouraging them as they grow a sense of self-respect, not just compliance. Kids need self-respect before they can give it to you or anybody else.

–Teach Clarity & Connection
Confusion about who’s in charge and the ensuing disconnection are what make us panic and demand respect in the first place. What kids really need to learn is how to be clear about their needs and stay connected even when they disagree with you. Clarity and connection during an argument trumps respect over the long haul every time.

–Control Your Own Emotions
Just as we allow toddlers to be clumsy as they coordinate their limbs and develop language, we must exercise patience when our teenagers stumble emotionally. If you become easily agitated and snarky, so will they. Adolescents need clear expectations and a focused parent who does not get distracted by taking things personally.

Overall, I’m not sure that adolescent brains are capable of the “respect” we hope to secure for ourselves. It’s in their DNA to minimize us so they can successfully leave the nest. If you remain their everything, they will stay there always.