How Parents Can Get Teens to Stop Swearing

If your teen says disrespectful things, it's important to intervene.
Maskot / Maskot / Getty Images 

Hearing your teen swear or use profane language toward you can be horrifying. You might be filled with anger or you may be so stunned you don't even know how to respond. 

It's important to respond in a manner that will deter your teen from doing it again. Clearly, you never want your teen to speak to a future employer, romantic partner, or friend with the same level of disrespect. 

How to Respond to Swearing in a Productive Manner

Whether your teen blew up because you said they couldn't go out with their friends or they're angry because you told them to clean their room, swearing at you is clearly unacceptable. The first thing to remember when responding is to stay calm. 

It can be tough to hear that level of disrespect. But raising your voice or saying disrespectful things back will only make things worse. Take a deep breath and don't say anything until you're calm enough to choose productive words. 

If you're at a loss for what to do, take a break to think about it. You might even say, "I'm going to go calm down and when I get back, I'll let you know what your consequences are." 

Don't give in to your teen because you feel guilty or because you know they're upset. If you've said no or you've told them to do something they don't want to do, it's important to enforce it now. Otherwise, you'll teach your child that using profane language and swearing at people is the way to get what they want. 

It's important to give your teen clear consequences for their inappropriate behavior. Take away privileges, such as visiting with friends or watching TV, for a couple of days. Or you might assign extra chores, like cleaning the garage or mowing the lawn. 

Make it clear when your teen's privileges will be reinstated. For example, say, "You can go out with your friends again starting Wednesday as long as you behave respectfully between now and then," or "You can watch TV again after you've completed this chore list."

Avoid giving vague timelines like, "You can have your privileges back when I can trust you." These statements may lead to more confusion for your teen. 

Strategies to Increase Respectful Behavior in the Long Term

If your teen uses profanity toward you, it's a sign that you have some work to do in the respect department. While it's important to take immediate action so your teen understands their behavior was wrong, it's also important to work on strategies that will reduce the likelihood of it happening again in the future. 

If you have a partner, make sure that you are parenting together as a team to address disrespect. If you disagree, don't do it in front of your teen. And never say disparaging remarks about one another in front of your teen.

Saying things like, "Your father is too lenient," or "You know how your mother gets sometimes. She makes crazy rules for no real reason," will reduce the respect your teen has for you or your partner. 

Next, be a good role model. Manage your anger in healthy ways. Treat others with respect too. If you are mean to service workers or you get into fights with your partner and say disrespectful things, your teen will pick up on your habits.

Make sure your teen has healthy coping strategies to deal with angry feelings. Teach anger management skills, such as going for a walk, taking deep breaths, or writing in a journal. 

Finally, keep in mind that your teen may be imitating disrespectful behavior from media. It could be helpful to reduce their exposure to violent shows or video games where people treat one another poorly. 

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 Pediatrics. Disciplining older children.

  2. Puskar KR, Ren D, McFadden T. Testing the ‘Teaching Kids to Cope with Anger’ youth anger intervention program in a rural school-based sampleIssues Ment Health Nurs. 2015;36(3):200-208. doi:10.3109/01612840.2014.969390

  3. Coyne SM, Stockdale LA, Nelson DA, Fraser A. Profanity in media associated with attitudes and behavior regarding profanity use and aggressionPediatrics. 2011;128(5):867‐872. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-1062

Additional Reading

By Denise Witmer
Denise Witmer is a freelance writer and mother of three children, who has authored several books and countless articles on parenting teens since 1997.