Dealing With a Disrespectful Teen Who Talks Back

teenage boy rolling his eyes and sitting on couch with father
E. Audras / ONOKY / Getty Images

Teens can be verbally impulsive by nature. The developing teen brain is guided less by logic and more by emotions. However, that doesn’t mean they should get a free pass to talk back and behave disrespectfully.

Hearing your teen say things like, “That’s not fair,” or “I don’t have to listen to you,” can be infuriating. Of course, many teens use much more colorful language to express their displeasure.

No matter what type of things your teen says, the way you respond to disrespect is important because the type of discipline you use influences how likely it is for the behavior to continue.

Research shows that rude teens are likely to turn into rude adults. So it's critical to teach your teen how to deal with anger without talking back, rolling their eyes, or slamming doors.

Although it can be hard to stay calm in the face of disrespectful behavior, you'll have a better chance of preserving your relationship with your child if you have a plan and work to keep communication open. Try these responses when your teen talks back.

Establish Rules That Emphasize Respect

Create rules that clarify which behaviors are acceptable and which behaviors won’t be tolerated. While some parents don't mind a few doors being slammed, for example, others have a zero-tolerance policy. Make it clear that certain behaviors, like name-calling, threats, and put-downs, will result in negative consequences.

It is important for parents, guardians, and caregivers to model this behavior as well. Research shows that shouting, yelling, and other forms of harsh verbal discipline from parents can lead to conduct problems and depressive symptoms in children, especially teens ages 13 to 14.

Stay Calm

Yelling at your teen or arguing with them will only escalate the situation. So, no matter what your teen says that's disrespectful, stay calm.

Take a deep breath, walk away, or develop a mantra to repeat over and over in your head. Do whatever it takes to prevent your temper from getting the best of you.

Ignore Attempts to Get Your Attention

Talking back often stems from a teen’s desire to get out of doing something they don't want to do. After all, the longer your teen can get you to engage in an argument, the longer they can delay doing what you've asked.

If you take the bait and engage in an argument, they can put off following your directions. So sometimes, ignoring a behavior, whether it's an eye-roll or mumbling under the breath, may be the best course of action. 

When you don't make eye contact, argue back, or pay attention to the behavior, it will likely stop. And you can get back on track toward ensuring your teen follows through with your directions. 

Don’t Give In

Another reason teens talk back is because they think they can get parents to change their minds. Whatever you do, don’t give in when your teen behaves disrespectfully. If you do, you’ll reinforce disrespectful behavior and your teen will learn it’s an effective means of getting what they want.

Don’t allow your teen to guilt you into changing your mind once you’ve said no. Even if your teen says you're the worst parent in the world, or tries to convince you that you're ruining their life, stick to your rules.

Offer One Warning

If your teen refuses to follow through with the directions you gave them, or they continue to behave disrespectfully, offer a warning. Tell them what the consequence will be if they don’t stop.

Don’t repeat the warning over and over again. Instead, give a single warning and follow through with the consequence if they don’t change their behavior.

Follow Through With a Consequence

If your teen breaks a rule by outright calling you a name or doesn’t change their behavior when you’ve given them a warning, follow through with a consequence. Remove privileges or assign additional responsibilities when necessary.

Problem-Solve Together

If talking back has become a common issue in your house, use the opportunity as a way to teach your teen problem-solving skills. Wait until everyone feels calm and work together to address the problem.

Sit down and discuss your concerns about the lack of respect. Invite your teen to offer ideas and strategies about how to address this behavior. Make it clear that you want everyone in the house to behave respectfully to one another.

Show that you’re willing to make changes as well. For example, if your teen says they talk back because you always tell them to clean their room when they are right in the middle of watching their favorite show, work together to find a solution.

A Word From Verywell

With a proactive and consistent plan, disrespectful behavior can get better. Learning how to interact with others without being rude is an important life skill that will serve your teen well into the future.

Above all, the best way to decrease disrespectful behavior in a teen is to connect with them by having a meaningful and mutually respectful relationship. If you notice that you're nagging often or approaching them with the expectation of conflict, disrespectful behavior will continue. Instead, focus on enjoying your teen and caring about the things they care about. It makes a difference.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Teen brain: Behavior, problem-solving, and decision-making.

  2. Hafen CA, Allen JP, Schad MM, Hessel ET. Conflict with friends, relationship blindness, and the pathway to adult disagreeableness. Pers Individ Dif. 2015;81:7-12. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2015.01.023

  3. Wang M-T, Kenny S. Longitudinal links between fathers’ and mothers’ harsh verbal discipline and adolescents’ conduct problems and depressive symptoms. Child Dev. 2014;85(3):908-923.

Additional Reading

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.