Handling Your Teen's Bad Attitude
We've all felt it. The condescending stare of a preteen or teen, followed by the "Ohhhhhh Mommm, do I have to?" in response to our request for help. For many of us this leads to the gritting of teeth and a mental rundown of all we do for them. This isn't a discipline problem; they will do what is asked of them... eventually. It's an attitude problem, which is harder to deal with.
Lisa Beamer, mother of three, knows all about the eye-rolling expertise of teens. Her own teen has taught her well.
"Anytime he takes something I say as nagging, even when I don't mean it that way, the eyes go," she says. "For instance, Fridays are garbage days here and it is his responsibility to take the garbage and recycling out Thursday nights. So, usually when he gets home from school on Thursday, I remind him that it is garbage night. That evokes the eye rolls and 'I KNOW!' Which, yes, he should as this is an every-week occurrence, but I can't tell you how many Thursdays the entire afternoon and evening goes by and he hasn't done the garbage and it's bedtime and he's out there in the dark doing it."
Why do preteens and teens so often behave this way? Part of the reason is the stage of development they are in, according to Dr. Paul Ciborowski, professor of counseling at the Long Island University. Ciborowski states that because teens are extremely egocentric, their first thought is almost always, "How does this affect me?" They are extremely influenced by the "me" factor and often have difficulty seeing things from another's perspective.
"You can try to appeal to their altruistic nature, in getting preteens and teens to help around the house, but in many teens doing things for the common good is not as developed as their 'quid pro quo, you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours' mentality," he says.
At times, parental behavior can facilitate the ingratitude attitude. The child who rarely expresses gratitude is generally the one for whom the parents have willingly stepped into the roles of "slaves." If you have generously become all things to your child – chief cook, bottle washer, taxi driver, homework helper and bank – without insisting on reciprocal behavior, you aren't helping the situation. Your child isn't thankful, because he hasn't been taught that it's essential.
Teaching your child that being a part of the family is sharing in the chores as well as the fun is more liable to bring about a child who feels and can express gratitude. There is a strong connection between a child with a thankful attitude and one who is willing to pitch in and help when a parent needs it.
Nagging seldom helps teach your preteen or teen gratitude, nor does listing all the things you do for him. One idea to help foster an attitude of gratitude is to have them sit and write down all their blessings. Not only will this help them see what they have been given, but you also will be teaching them a tool that will help them in the many rocky areas they may encounter in their lives.
Kate Kelly, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Teenager, believes there are more extreme measures you can take if you're dealing with a major case of attitude.
"I think that the 'teachable moment' lies in refusing to respond when attitude presents itself," she says. "The teen needs a ride? Not if the request comes in that tone. The teen refuses to help with the dishes, well, then the time it takes you to do the dishes by yourself takes away the time you had agreed to go shopping with her for the new shoes she needs/wants.These aren't 'faked' cause and effect situations – they are real. The surly teen won't get a good response from a teacher or another parent either, and if she won't help you, why should you inconvenience yourself and help her?"
Kelly has five hints for getting preteens and teens to help around the house with a better attitude.
- Let your teen select the chores for which he or she will be responsible. She should then pick something she doesn't mind doing and something that fits with her time schedule.
- Teach the chore. You may think a teen has watched you run a garbage disposal a thousand times, but some of them won't have paid any attention.
- Set up a natural reminder system – a chart or a note left on the kitchen counter for the teen. Unemotional memory jogs will help him succeed at his chores.
- Offer leniency. If she has finals, give her a week off from her chores. Keep in mind that today's teens are often as strapped for time as we are.
- Offer praise. The appreciated teen is far less likely to have "attitude."
These tips will not disperse with the eye-rolling or the ingratitude attitude altogether; these are teenagers after all. But real life teaches teens with far more impact then any of the contrived experiences we could concoct. An attitude of gratitude and thankfulness for the blessings life has handed them isn't just an attribute coveted by harried mothers, but one which will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.