Verbal Disrespect

Asked September 25, 2013, 9:23 AM EDT

I have a 13-year-old granddaughter who is totally disrespectful and verbally abusive. I have been asked to validate her feelings rather than to correct her behavior. What's next? This has caused a break in the family. I told her she had become an embarrassment to me. Everyone says I'm wrong. I think she is old enough to know better and that there are consequences for her behavior. Self-esteem is not an issue for this child—hers is over the top, and she feels she can do nothing wrong.

Lake County Illinois

1 Response

It can be very frustrating to experience this type of behavior from teens. Despite how hokey people feel “I messages” are, they really do work, and I might encourage you to try using some. For instance, you could say, "I feel sad when you speak to me in this way. I feel it is disrespectful. Can you help me understand?” Teens are still fairly self-centered and often do not truly understand the consequences of their words or how they really make others feel. Perhaps no one has told her in a way that she can understand.

I encourage you to keep the lines of communication open with your granddaughter. Perhaps you can identify a common area of interest and spend time with her at this activity. Perhaps you can teach her how to make a favorite family recipe or craft. This might help to build understanding and mutual respect.

It can also be helpful to understand normal teen development. For instance, one of the functions that teens are learning to master is independence. Your granddaughter might be trying to express her independence, albeit in a disrespectful way. The stages of normal development are often painful for adults to watch and experience. This is not to say that disrespectful behavior needs to be tolerated. Sometimes, as adults, we can get really snippy when our young people are talking in a disrespectful manner. This only works to close the door to positive communication. It can be helpful to model appropriate behavior and speech. It also might be helpful to set some boundaries with the teenager. For instance, explain, “I expect to be spoken to in a respectful manner. How you treat others is between you and them, but you may not speak to me disrespectfully.”

I would imagine that you love your granddaughter, and it would be really nice for her to be told that as well. Often teens feel like they are navigating the world alone and no one cares about them. My hope is that you will be able to keep the lines of communication open with your granddaughter and that as you model appropriate behavior and set boundaries, your relationship will improve.