What to Do When Your Teen Swears at You

If your teen says disrespectful things, it's important to intervene.
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Hearing your teen swear at you 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. 

But, 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 in a Productive Manner

Whether your teen blew up at you because you said he can't go out with his friends or he's angry because you told him to clean his room, clearly his behavior is unacceptable. Here's how you can respond to swear words and profane language directed at you in a productive manner: 

  1. 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. So take a deep breath and don't say anything until you're calm enough to make your words productive. 
  2. Take a break if you need to. 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 going to be." 
  3. Enforce the rules.  Don't give in to your teen because you feel guilty or because you know he's upset. If you've said no or you've told him to do something he doesn't want to do, it's important to enforce it now. Otherwise, you'll teach him that using profane language and swearing at people is a productive way to get whatever he wants. 
  4. Provide consequences. It's important to give your teen clear consequences for his inappropriate behavior. Take away privileges, such as visiting with friends or watching TV, for a couple of days. Or, you might also assign extra chores, like cleaning the garage or mowing the lawn. 
  1. Encourage future success. Make it clear when your teen's privileges will be reinstated. For example, say, "You can go out with your friends again starting on 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," because that may lead to more confusion. 

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. So while it's important to take immediate action so your teen understands her behavior was wrong, it's also important to work on strategies that will reduce the likelihood that it will happen again in the future. 

  1. Make sure you and your partner are on the same page. 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. 
  2. 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 so make sure you are being a good role model for your teen.
  3. Teach your teen anger management skills. 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. 
  4. Monitor your teen's media activities. Your teen may be imitating disrespectful behavior from media. You may want to reduce exposure he has to violent shows or video games where people treat one another poorly. 

    Sources

    Chavez D, Steffey CL. Conflict Resolution During AdolescencePediatrics in Review. 2012;33(3):142-143.