Dealing with Disrespectful Teenagers (stepkids and kids)
There have been many SMOMS concerned about all the issues with adolescent stepkids so I booked an hour with a therapist who has a good reputation for working with adolescents. I spent some time organizing my notes from meetings and the BB.
We had a terrific session. She surprised me by telling me that she was a Stepmom to 4 stepkids, now grown and then said, “Fire away, what’s on your list?” What a great start.
The focus on the session was to learn appropriate responses to teenage stepkids whenever they’re disrespectful…passively or aggressively. I shared a few examples and she offered the comments to follow. I’m excited to share them with you for I believe she shares our views about creative problem solving. See what you think and feel about her ideas.
NOTE: She said that teenage Stepkids are going to have two different reactions for SMOMs. One when they have known us since childhood and another when SMOMs come into their lives when they are already teens. The stepkids who have known us since they were kids are much more likely to really love us-even if it has not been safe for them to admit or express that love. Stepkids that meet their SMOMs as Teens are not going to have the heart-connection so I will differentiate when needed.
Situation: Skid ignores you when you are talking with him/her, refuses to reply to questions OR reacts in an actively aggressive manner when talking with SMOM.
Suggestion: Her view is that if the bio-dad is within earshot, he should step in immediately on behalf of the SMOM and say something like, “Disrespectful behavior is not tolerated in this house. (Then looking at SMOM) Say,” Honey I’ll take it from here.” And have him enforce the rules in the home. (God Bless every hubby who does this!)
When the bio-dad is not around or not involved here is her advice for SMOMs.
She suggests we stop, pause as soon as their disrespectful behavior begins and while keeping as calm, cool and with as neutral a tone as possible say the following 4 lines. (I actually wrote them verbatim as we could use it as a model. We’ll get our own words with some practice.)
SMOM to SKID
1. I can see you’re feeling (state the emotion) angry, upset, and sad, etc.
2. I can see you’d like some distance (if they are ignoring us, if not, go right to #3)
3. I’m upset (unhappy, disappointed, and annoyed) that you’re being disrespectful.(there is no need to go into any details at that time. The fact that they are being disrespectful is all we need to say. The fewer words the better.)
4. So…I’m going to give you some space.
5. Turn and walk away (here’s the good part) with our power.
6. Go back to what we were doing but withdraw our attention from the skid and do something else as if nothing happened.
She went on to explain that this is the very best way to deal with adolescents as they are not going to listen to words when they have an attitude or are upset. She said the biggest mistake adults make is thinking that talking is going to solve something when the teen is upset. (I thought talking about things to gain understanding would result in his choice to change…wrong.)
CBD: What about the issue that caused the trouble? The chore or task or bad behavior? Are we supposed to just go on like it didn’t happen?
Therapist: Yes, go on with whatever you’re doing. Give them the cold shoulder and do not interact with them for the time being. She calls this the natural consequence approach. (Like in the 60’s)
CBD: “Isn’t this mean?”
Therapist: “NO, they’re going to learn that we don’t tolerate that behavior and we will not engage with them if they do.”
CBD: What if they come back and ask you to do something for them (as they will do)?
Therapist: Say the following with as much of a “matter of fact” tone as we can muster.
SMOM to SKID: “Remember when I acknowledged that you were feeling (emotion) and I told you how upset I was that you were being disrespectful? (It’s important that they connect with the experience). Well, I’m still upset by that and I’m not willing to do anything for you right now.” (Period. End of conversation. Disengage. Leave their space coolly and calmly.)
She said the teens will very quickly realize that if they want something from us, they’re going to have to be respectful (or pretend to be respectful) and they’ll choose this because they want our help. Even if there’s a battle of wills, it’s important for the SMOMs not to cave in just because they begin to try to butter us up.
CBD: “How long do we NOT do for them?”
Therapist: “There’s no rule. You begin to do things again whenever you feel like you want to. The teen can have a lot of impact here. An apology, an act of making amends, an expression of remorse would certainly shorten the time frame but the power remains that we say “NO” because we feel “NO.” There is no defending or explaining. These kids are teens. They KNOW when they are being disrespectful but they have gotten away with it or learned we are not consistent and so NO explanation is needed.”
CBD: What if they say, “Why won’t you do this? Give me a reason?”
Therapist: Simply repeat yourself. “I’m still upset at the disrespectful behavior and I do not want to do that for you right now.”
CBD: What about when they say, “When will you be ready?”
Therapist: You get to use a teen favorite, “I don’t know.” or “I’m not sure right now.” Disengage and walk away.
She went on to explain that stepkids who gain a SMOM when they are already teens are not going to have the same emotional attachment as the Stepkids we have known since they were young. She encourages the same approach but adds that it is helpful to make as many kind gestures towards the teen stepkids so that they see a balance between our kindness and willingness to help them AND our refusal to be treated with disrespect and the consequences of that act.
This approach is exciting as it can eliminate any need to yell, to feel like a prison guard or cleaning police or engage in stressful arguments. We can have the power over our feelings knowing that we’re doing the “right” thing by disengaging, even if it means certain things don’t get done the way we were taught they should be done.
Let’s give this approach try and see if we can have some success stories to share. I really like the idea of no longer getting hooked by their bad behavior. Remember we are connected to people through anger as well as love. That’s why the detaching without anger, being neutral feels different to the teens than any form of engagement.
Best Wishes, Cathryn
©2005 Cathryn Bond Doyle. All Rights Reserved.