The [Paradox] of Teen Rudeness

As a parent, I am sure it is more than unnerving when your teen (or tween) throws out their first curse word—especially if it is directed at you. What’s worse? Eye-rolling, disdain, interrupting and overall rude behavior. Unfortunately it seems that the number of emails we get from parents about teen rudeness as increased over the past year. Here are some examples:

Hi Vanessa-


Any advice for my family on how to get my son to be less rude to us? He comes home from school, puts his stuff everywhere, scoffs at whatever we say and is generally inappropriate and rude to us. Where did this come from? How can we deal with it without making him even more angry?


Any advice is much appreciated,




Dear Teens at Radical Parenting,


I would love to submit a question to the writers at Radical Parenting about teens who curse at their parents. My daughter swears and uses foul language often in our home. We never curse and find it incredibly rude. How do we get her to stop?

Thanks – Mariah (Mom)


I believe that teen rudeness is actually an interesting paradox and there are three reasons adolescents can adopt disrespectful behavior:


1. It is their way of pulling away.


Unconsciously teens are trying to separate from their parents during the teen years. Often parents get into huge fights with teens right before they leave for college to make separation easier. I believe this can be the stem of some of the sudden (and uncharacteristic) teen rudeness.


2. Rudeness is a cover for a feeling of deficiency.


Teens (and people in general) are often rude or in a foul mood when something is bothering them or making them feel inadequate. This is why teens lash out, they are trying to protect themselves and/or feel bad about something.


3. They let their guard down because they are comfortable and bad moods sneak out.


Teenagers often spend long days at school (for better or worse) turned in the ‘on’ position. They are trying to impress friends, fit in with the opposite sex and get along with teachers. When they finally come home they can actually unwind and be themselves. Unfortunately this can sometimes mean that because they are exhausted from the day and tired of pretending to ‘make nice’ they are in a bad mood—hence the rude behavior. Here comes the paradox: your teen is rude to you because you are the one safe person they can let out their frustration on when they do not know of a healthier way to let it out.


Should you take it as a complement if your teen is rude to you? Probably not, but it might mean that they feel more comfortable around you. Still, disrespecting parents is unacceptable so I asked some of our teens how they think parents can encourage kids to be less rude.


  • Find rudeness patterns. Are there certain times when your teen is more rude than others? After being around a certain friend? After school? Before homework time? This might give you clues as to what is bringing on the rudeness. A teen’s foul mood is usually a indicator that something else is bothering them. Address the something else, and typically the impolite behavior goes away.
  • Give them healthy ways to separate from you. If you believe your teen’s rudeness is a symptom of the number one issue above—trying to establish independence. Encourage their growth and separation from you in healthy ways like going off to summer camp, spending more time doing activities that make them feel accomplished, etc.
  • Put a break-time into practice. Unfortunately, due to hormones, lack of sleep and the general ups and downs of teendom, adolescents can sometimes, without notice, automatically reply in a rude way—with either a curse word or tone of voice. This is not acceptable, but should be dealt with carefully so as not to inflame them even further. Decide to respond consciously to their automated response ahead of time. What you can say is, “I felt that your tone/word/attitude was not what you meant. Can we retry it or talk about this later?” Building in breaks is essential here. Also warning your teen that next time it happens you might try this will get them on board to pause their actions as well.


I have been rude to my parents at times, and for that I apologize to them. I didn’t mean to, but it was still unacceptable. Remember that your teen might be rude now, but with patience and the right responses hopefully one day they will be able to look back and say, “Mom, that was rude of me. Sorry about that.”



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One Response to “The [Paradox] of Teen Rudeness”

  1. mark
    April 27, 2011 at 9:08 am #

    I recently read a great resource for parenting: What Happened to my Little Girl? It’s a guide for dads of tween girls, but would apply to teens as well. Here’s a link to the Amazon page: It offers all sorts of helpful information, including how to approach rudeness in a constructive way that maintains and builds relationships rather than tearing them down.

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