Disrespect  for Your 18-Year-Old

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Now Is the Right Time!

Teens ages 15-19 are actively finding ways to assert independence with confidence but may also feel fragile and vulnerable about their future adult lives. They will naturally test limits and break rules. Your teen’s natural need for risk taking, desire for independence, sexual curiosity, and need to belong add to the likelihood that they will break rules. This is a normal part of their development and necessary for their learning.

As a parent or someone in a parenting role, you can choose to be purposeful and deliberate about the ways you respond when you feel your teen has shown disrespect through words or actions. This can occur because they are feeling angry or hurt toward a parent, teacher, or family member. Commonly, disrespect can happen when there is a power struggle. They may lash out with words when they feel powerless as an attempt to gain power. It’s critical that you offer ways your teen can gain power while channeling hurt or angry feelings in ways that do no harm and demonstrate respect. In fact, learning how to respond to anger in constructive ways requires all five social and emotional skills including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. Your reaction to your teen can help teach them constructive, healthy ways to seek and gain power and respond to others respectfully when they are feeling angry or upset.

Seeking power is a normal human need. All children, teens, and adults require a sense of control over their lives. Yet, teens may often feel they lack control over their circumstances leading to frustration. One essential role parents or those in a parenting role can play is to educate their teen on positive ways to seek and use power. Yet, when they are disrespectful, it can offend or hurt personally. Parents often need to deal with their own upset feelings, calming down before responding, so that they react in ways that take advantage of the teachable opportunity.

Some parents feel that if they do not impose punishments, their teen will not understand that their behavior is inappropriate. In fact, when a teen is punished, they often feel scared, humiliated, and hurt. This overwhelming sense of fear or hurt impacts their relationship with you while also failing to teach them the appropriate behavior. In fact, your teen’s sense of injustice and anger may increase along with power struggles or revenge behaviors. Most importantly, your teen is likely to miss the lesson you want to emphasize entirely and feel unsafe.

Teens ages 15-19 are exercising and developing consequential thinking. They are still learning to examine a potential choice and predict what impacts it might have in the future on others. This responsible decision making is developed over time and requires a lot of practice. Each challenge with disrespect represents an opportunity to reflect and practice responsible decision making.

Disrespect is challenging for many parents.1 Approaching power-seeking words and actions as teachable moments that grow your teen’s skills can be transformational in your relationship. The steps below include specific, practical strategies along with effective conversation starters.

Why Transform Disrespect?

When your fifteen-year-old yells she hates you when frustrated with your “No” response or your eighteen-year-old intentionally skips a family gathering when angry, these situations are opportunities to transform disrespect.

Today, in the short term, transforming disrespect into learning how to use power and channel anger in healthy ways can create

  • a sense of confidence that you can help your teen regain calm and focus,
  • a greater understanding in you of the connection between your teen’s feelings and their behaviors,
  • trust in each other that you have the competence to manage your intense feelings, and
  • a growing understanding of rules and expectations.

Tomorrow, in the long term, transforming disrespect helps your teen

  • build skills in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships, and responsible decision making;
  • learn independence and self-sufficiency; and
  • build assertive communication to express needs and boundaries, critical for keeping them safe and ready to deal with a variety of relationships.

Five Steps for Transforming Disrespect Download a summary of the 5 steps

This five-step process helps you transform disrespect in your teen. The same process can be used to address other parenting issues as well (learn more about the process).


These steps are done best when you and your teen are not tired or in a rush.


Intentional communication and a healthy parenting relationship support these steps.

Step 1. Get Your Teen Thinking by Getting Their Input

A teen’s behaviors are often influenced by their feelings. Feelings are spontaneous reactions to people, places, and experiences. Feelings are not right or wrong, but what your teen does with their feelings may be appropriate or inappropriate.

You can help your teen better uncover and understand their feelings by asking open-ended questions. In gaining input:

  • You can transform an unsafe or inappropriate behavior into a teachable moment by uncovering your teen’s feelings.
  • You can better understand why your teen is behaving in a certain way.
  • You can begin to teach your teen how to understand their own feelings, which will help them manage their own behaviors.
  • You can grow their self-control, social awareness, and problem-solving skills.


Before you can get input from your teen to understand (and help them understand) what they are feeling, you both need to be calm. Your teen will not learn from the situation if you or they are upset.

  • Check on how you are feeling. If you are angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed, take a “parenting time out” and take several deep breaths (it really does help) or sit quietly for a few minutes. An upset parent can unwittingly fuel the flames of an angry teen who is engaging in a power struggle so calming down first is necessary.

Teens ages 15-19 are still learning to identify and understand their own feelings, other people’s feelings, and how their own actions affect others. They will need your support in figuring all this out. When both you and your teen are calm, reflect on their feelings so you can be prepared to help.

  • Ask yourself: “Does my teen have an unmet need? Are they hungry or tired?” They might need someone to listen or give them attention, some alone time, or some help so they can be successful at something they are trying to do.
  • You can ask them about how they are feeling.
    • “I noticed your face got really red when your sister walked in. Were you feeling frustrated?”
    • “I’ve noticed you haven’t been hearing from your friends. I wonder if you are feeling sad?”
  • Use your best listening skills! Listen closely to what is most concerning to your teen without projecting your own thoughts, concerns, and feelings. It helps to use a paraphrasing technique to ensure you are fully understanding what your teen is communicating.
    • Paraphrasing is echoing back to the person a summary of what they’ve said to check how accurate your listening is and also to confirm to the speaker that you have heard them. It may seem awkward at first, but this step is an important way for you to check your own understanding while simultaneously teaching teens how to listen for comprehension. It might go something like this:
      • Teen: “When my brother told me to get out of his room, I got so mad that I yelled and called him a name.”
      • Parent modeling paraphrasing: “So, I hear that when your brother told you he wanted you to leave his bedroom, you responded by yelling an insulting name at him.”
      • If you hear a subtext of feeling, as in this example, you can reflect back the feeling implied. Also, you can seek further clarification if it’s needed. Parent reflecting feeling: “I hear you were mad. Were your feelings hurt too when he told you to leave?”
  • Explore the mind-body connection. In calmer moments with your teen, ask, “How does your body feel now?” See how descriptively they can list their physical signs of wellbeing. Now ask, “How does your body feel when you are angry?” For every person, their physical experience will be different. Find out how your teen feels and make the connection between those symptoms and the normal feelings they are having.

Avoid letting the question turn into an accusation. Remember to stay calm and that the goal of the question is to help the teen uncover feelings.

Step 2. Teach New Skills by Interactive Modeling

The fundamental purpose of transforming disrespect is to grow new skills and behaviors to replace inappropriate ones. Learning new skills and behaviors requires modeling, practice, support, and recognition.

Learning how to understand your own feelings and behaviors when your teen behaves inappropriately is a great way to start. It will help you understand what they are learning to do. You might ask yourself:

  • “Do I get angry when they act in a certain way?”
  • “How do I respond to my anger?”
  • “How do I want my teen to respond when they feel angry?”

Learning about your teen’s developmental milestones can help you have reasonable expectations for your teen.

  • Fifteen-year-olds may feel sensitive to criticism and preoccupied with peer impressions. Conflict may arise if teens fear failure in front of you, their teacher, or their peers.
  • Sixteen-year-olds may feel more confident. They may have new goals outside of school, and along with them, stress and worries. They may be tempted to stay up late studying or socializing, but that lack of sleep challenges their self-control and ability to manage anger and anxiety in healthy ways.
  • Seventeen-year-olds may become highly focused on their academic and life goals and feel the stress of adult choices ahead. Conflicts may arise with you as they assert independence but also feel fragile, vulnerable, and scared of their future adult lives.
  • Eighteen and nineteen-year-olds are considered emerging adults. At times they may exude confidence, while other times they may feel highly insecure and run to you needing comfort and security. Conflict may arise as you renegotiate your adult-to-adult relationship with them.

Teaching is different than just telling. Teaching builds basic skills, grows problem-solving abilities, and sets your teen up for success. Teaching also involves modeling and practicing the positive behaviors you want to see, promoting skills, and preventing problems.1 There are two specific areas of focus required in order to transform disrespect. They are: (1) dealing with challenging feelings in healthy ways and (2) learning to constructively use and share power.


It can be easy for parents or those in a parenting role to immediately address the underlying feelings with a simple “No” or other way of shutting it down. Remember, all feelings are valid and need to be accepted. All reactions to feelings may not be acceptable. For example:

  • When a teen is angry, instead of saying, “You shouldn’t be mad,” shift to “I see you are angry; how can we help you feel better? What about taking some deep breaths?”
  • When a teen is frustrated, instead of saying, “Here, let me do it,” shift to “This can be hard. Do you want some help?”

Actions for Dealing with Challenging Feelings

  • At a calm time, ask “What helps you feel better when you’re sad, mad, or hurt?” Share ideas and practice them together like taking deep breaths, getting a drink of water, taking a walk, or talking to you or a friend.
  • Work on your family feelings vocabulary. Teens ages 15-19 are still learning about identifying their own feelings especially when there is a difficult range or mix of emotions. Use feeling words for yourself and others in your family regularly. Do feelings check-ins when your family is together. Being able to identify feelings is the first step in successfully managing emotions.
  • Model assertive communication through “I-messages.” Here’s how: “I feel (insert feeling word) when you (name the words or actions that upset you) because (state the impact).” Here’s an example: “I feel sad when you say hurtful things to your brother. It hurts his feelings.” This helps you take responsibility for your feelings while avoiding blaming language like “You did…” (which closes down the mind and ears of the other). It helps communicate the problem constructively.

Create a signal you each can use when you or your teen or both are taken over with challenging feelings. You might say “I need a minute!” or “Code red!” Practice using it so that it becomes a habit that you take a pause when angry or upset before responding.

Actions for Using Power Constructively

  • Model words and actions that are respectful to them and others. Your teen’s first teacher of social and emotional skills is your own modeling of behaviors.
  • Teach your teen positive ways to seek control or power. How can they demonstrate responsibility by caring for their possessions, their schoolwork, or for a sibling? Each time your teen acts inappropriately, ask yourself what positive behavior you need to model and reinforce that can replace the inappropriate behavior.
  • Talk through ethical dilemmas in your life whether stories are taken from friends’ or neighbors’ lives or in local or national news. Make sure you talk about choices and outcomes, tying cause to effect. Make predictions together on what might happen and what other options the person had in sticky situations. These conversations help create new brain connections to further develop your teen’s higher order thinking skills and strengthen their ability to make responsible decisions.
  • Teach your teen to repair harm. A critical step in teaching teens about managing anger and responding to others in respectful ways is learning how to repair harm when they’ve caused it. Harm could be physical, like breaking something, or emotional, like hurting someone’s feelings. Mistakes are a critical aspect of their social learning. Everyone has moments when they hurt another. But, it’s that next step that matters in repairing the relationship. Teens will need your guidance and support in following through to mend broken things or relationships. After all, it takes courage to make a sincere apology and admit to wrongdoing.
  • End the day with love. If a teen has acted disrespectfully during the day, they may end the day feeling bad about themselves. Teens can tie your love to their behavior. If you act proud of them, they feel loved. If you are disappointed or mad at them, they feel unloved. Be sure that you spend one-on-one time with your teen if they have had rough patches that day. This teaches them that they are loved no matter what choices they make. It encourages them to practice new ways of behaving.

Create a ritual of sharing words of love and care at bedtime (yours or theirs!). Consider that ending the day reflecting on how much you appreciate one another could just be the best way to send your teen off to sleep.

Step 3. Practice to Grow Skills and Develop Habits

Practice can take the form of role playing, cooperatively completing the task together, or trying out a task with you as a coach and ready support. Practice is necessary for teens to internalize new skills. Practice makes vital new brain connections that strengthen each time your teen performs the new action.


  • Accept feelings. If you are going to help your teen manage their biggest feelings, it is important to acknowledge and accept their feelings — even ones you don’t like. When your teen is upset, consider your response. Instead of focusing on their actions or the problem, focus on their feelings FIRST. You could say, “I hear you’re upset. What can you do to help yourself feel better? Would some quiet time help you feel better?” Then (after calming down), focus on teaching and practicing better behavior.
  • Use “Show me…” statements. When a teen learns a new ability, they are eager to show it off! Give them that chance. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. Say, “Show me how you can make a good choice regarding your sister.” This practice will remind your teen to use their power wisely if they are tempted to misbehave to get their needs met.
  • Offer limited and authentic choices. Offering them a choice, even if small — “Do you want to do your homework after school or after practice?” — can return a sense of control to their lives. It also offers valuable practice in responsible decision making.
  • Share power through turn taking or cooperative decision making as a family.
  • Recognize effort by using “I notice…” statements like, “I notice how you used our ‘code red’ signal. It worked! That’s excellent!”
  • Practice deep breathing. Because deep breathing is such a simple way to assist your teen anytime, anywhere, it’s important to get plenty of practice so that it becomes easy to use when needed. Here’s an enjoyable way to practice together!
  • Follow through on repairing harm. When your teen has caused harm, they need your guidance, encouragement, and support in following through to repair it. They may need you to be by their side through that process, and that’s okay! They are learning the invaluable skill of responsible decision making.
  • Include reflection on the day in your bedtime routine. You might ask, “What happened today that made you happy?” or “What were the best moments in your day?” You should answer the questions as well. Teens may not have the chance to reflect on what’s good and abundant in their lives throughout the day (and may in fact get plenty of negative messaging through social media or peer critics), yet grateful thoughts are a central contributor to happiness and wellbeing. They realize they are not powerless but actually quite powerful.

Step 4. Support Your Teen’s Development and Success

At this point, you’ve taught your teen some new strategies. You’ve practiced together. Now, you can offer support when it’s needed by reteaching, monitoring, coaching, and, when appropriate, applying logical consequences. Parents naturally offer support as they see their teen fumble with a situation in which they need help. This is no different.


  • Ask key questions to support their skills. For example, “You were up late working on your project. What can you do if you start feeling overwhelmed?”
  • Learn about development. Each new age and stage will present differing challenges and along with them, stress, frustration, and anger. Check out the book Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens through the Twenties for research-based information on this unique time.
  • Promote an “I can” belief. Teens need to hear that you believe in their ability to learn anything with time and hard work.
  • Foster friendships. Close friends can be an invaluable source of empathy and support for your teen. They also offer an opportunity to practice sharing power, negotiate roles, and work through conflict.
  • Stay engaged. Working together on ideas for trying out new and different coping strategies can help offer additional support and motivation for your teen when tough issues arise.
  • Reflect on the real world, natural consequences of disrespectful behaviors. Discuss what alternative choices people have instead that show respect and do no harm.

Learning new behaviors to replace inappropriate behaviors takes time. Teens ages 15-19 will likely not do it right the first time (or even the second or third!). That’s OK. What’s important is that you transform disrespectful words and actions by understanding feelings, teaching new healthy coping strategies and ways of managing difficult feelings, and practicing sharing power and taking responsibility all the while maintaining a healthy, supportive, loving relationship. Your trusting relationship with your teen is what is most important.

Step 5. Recognize Effort and Quality to Foster Motivation

No matter how old your teen is, your praise and encouragement are their sweetest reward.

If your teen is working to grow their skills — even in small ways — it will be worth your while to recognize it. Your recognition can go a long way to promoting positive behaviors and helping them manage their feelings. Your recognition also promotes safe, secure, and nurturing relationships — a foundation for strong communication and a healthy relationship with you as they grow.

You can recognize your teen’s efforts with praise, high fives, and hugs. Praise is most effective when you name the specific behavior of which you want to see more. For example, “You asked for help before getting frustrated — love seeing that!” or “You took care of washing your own clothes when you needed them — I appreciate that!”

Avoid bribes. A bribe is a promise for a behavior, while praise is special attention after the behavior. While bribes may work in the short term, praise grows lasting motivation for good behavior and effort. For example, instead of saying “If you don’t argue with your sister, you’ll get extra game time” (which is a bribe), try recognizing the behavior after. “You were helpful around the house today. I really appreciate that!”


  • Recognize and call out when it is going well. It may seem obvious, but it’s easy not to notice when all is moving along smoothly. When teens are using the self-management tools you’ve taught them, a short, specific call out is all that’s needed. “I noticed when you got frustrated with your research paper, you moved away and took some deep breaths. That’s excellent.”
  • Recognize small steps along the way. Don’t wait for the big accomplishments. Remember that your recognition can work as a tool to promote more positive behaviors. Find small ways your teen is making an effort and let them know you see them.
  • Build celebrations into your routine. Promote joy and happiness by laughing, singing, dancing, hugging, and snuggling to appreciate one another.


Engaging in these five steps is an investment that builds your skills as an effective parent to use on many other issues and builds important skills that will last a lifetime for your teen. Throughout this tool, there are opportunities for teens to become more self-aware, to deepen their social awareness, to exercise their self-management skills, to work on their relationship skills, and to demonstrate and practice responsible decision making.


[1] Elias, M. J., Tobias, S. E., Friedlander, B. S., & Goleman, D. (2000). Emotionally Intelligent Parenting: How to Raise a Self-Disciplined, Responsible, Socially Skilled Child. Harmony.
Recommended Citation: Center for Health and Safety Culture. (2021). Disrespect. Ages 15-19. Retrieved from https://parentingmontana.org.
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