How To Cope With A ‘Mean’ Teen

Discover ways to deal with your teenager’s bad attitude…

Eye rolls.

Door slams.

Shrugs and mumbles.

Snapping your head off.

Sound familiar? Most parents will face this phase with their teenager at some point and while it can be challenging and all kinds of frustrating, it will eventually pass. Phew. But what can you do in the meantime? How can you respond to disrespectful or rude behaviour? How do you establish clear boundaries while avoiding an almighty row? It’s no easy task, but here are a few suggestions for handling your mean teen:

  • Stay Calm

Sounds basic but it’s pretty difficult to keep a level head when your teen is looking at you like you’re something they just scraped off their shoe… Keep calm in the face of your teen’s attitude. Give yourself a minute, take a deep breath and re-focus before continuing the conversation. You’ve got this.

  • Set Clear Boundaries

Be very clear about your boundaries. Outline what is, and isn’t, acceptable in your home. Talk to your teen about the kinds of words and behaviours that are unacceptable and make sure the whole family also adheres to these boundaries to set a good example.

  • Give Praise

Don’t be shy in giving praise when your teenager reacts or behaves in a positive manner. Always give credit where it’s due to reinforce positive behaviour.

  • Set A Good Example

Talk to your child in the way you’d like them to talk to you. This gives them a very clear idea of what you expect from them.

  • Set Consequences

Make sure your teen knows the consequences for, say, swearing, and stick to them. This helps to cement the boundaries you set before.

  • Choose Your Battles

With that said, try not to set too many consequences. It can also help to let some of the little things slide, such as mumbling under their breath, if your teen is generally behaving well. Sometimes in life you have to pick your battles to win the war!

  • Avoid Arguing

Try to avoid getting dragged into a heated argument. Arguing rarely solves anything and often makes the situation worse, leaving both parties feeling frustrated and angry. Walk away, if you must, and wait until you have both calmed down before trying again. For more advice on building a better relationship with your teen, click here.

  • Don’t Take It Personally

Easier said than done, right? It can feel very personal and hurtful when your teenager is treating you badly. Try to remember that this is a phase – a time when your teenager will push your buttons to work out where their boundaries lie. You will both come out the other side of this, eventually. In the meantime, try not to take it personally and avoid getting defensive.

More Than Just Attitude?

A negative attitude could be a sign that something isn’t right. If you’re worried your child may be depressed, anxious or struggling with their mental health, there are signs you can look out for:

  • Changes to their eating or sleeping patterns. 
  • Very low moods.
  • Outbursts of anger or severe irritability. 
  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks or a lack of interest or enthusiasm for activities they previously enjoyed.
  • A negative change to your teen’s schoolwork. Late homework, poor grades and a lack of enthusiasm towards schooling can be a sign, especially if your teen was previously a good student.
  • Headaches or unexplained aches.
  • A loss of interest in their own appearance. Your teen may have stopped showering as often or appears to have lost interest in doing their hair/make-up.
  • Agitated behaviours such as fidgeting or tapping.
  • Loss of interest in their friendships or social activities. Many people with depression tend to withdraw from friends and family.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Reduced energy or fatigue.
  • Talk of feeling sad, hopeless or lonely. Your teen may also be prone to unexpected tears or outbursts of emotion. 
  • Talk of hating themselves or evidence of self-harm. 
  • Suicidal thoughts or talk of not wanting to be here.

If you’re concerned your teen may be depressed or suffering from anxiety, seek help from your GP. If you are worried that your child or teenager may be considering suicide, try to encourage them to talk about how they are feeling. Listening seriously to what they have to say and taking action is the best way to help.

If you think your child is in crisis, is threatening to harm themselves or you just have a ‘gut feeling’ that something is very wrong, get help immediately. Take your child to A&E if necessary or contact your local CAMHS crisis team or call Childline on 0808 8005000. For more advice on supporting a child with suicidal thoughts, click here.


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