5 tips for when teens have a difficult attitude

When our child moves into the teenage years, it often means a change in attitude. The simplest of requests met with rudeness and an atmosphere that is tense and negative. It’s like a stranger who dislikes us has been forced to move in and live by our rules!

Firstly, know that this is expected and not a parenting fail! In fact, there are biological reasons driving this change. What we see on the outside is the result of the emotional turmoil on the inside. The rapid development of the limbic system means a teen has ‘all the feels’, good and bad, but without the same rational approach that develops in the mid 20’s.

Our teenager can often respond rudely as their brain is struggling to manage intense emotions and often, the attitude is not directed at us. In fact, it is commonly not even recognized by a teen as being rude or defiant. They are merely responding to the frustration of being asked to do something they are not wanting to do, or feeling that they are being treated unfairly, for example.

Secondly, their moodiness can be a sign of anxiety or stress, a push for independence or a need for more privacy. Changes to what is expected of them, needing to negotiate more complicated social relationships, peer pressure and thoughts about their environment and future can all combine to make this a challenging time for a teen.

Elevated hormone levels can also mean heightened sensitivity. Unable to express this to peers and other adults, this is often unleashed on those whose love is unconditional.


What can we do in the face of a difficult attitude?


1..Check in. Sometimes there are things going on that are causing a change in attitude. Making sure nothing is ‘wrong’ is an important first step. Or, if the attitude has suddenly become much worse, is there a trigger for this?

2. Pause. Don’t take it personally. Even though rudeness can push all our buttons, reacting as neutrally as possible both models the behaviour we would like our teen to follow and prevents the situation from escalating.

Remember usually, the attitude is not deliberate, it’s a function of those big emotions. It’s not a personal attack and it’s important not to take it as such. Remaining calm requires patience and practice. It can be helpful to think of them as someone else’s child and behave accordingly!

3. Hunt for good. Focus on the positives. It’s really easy to get so caught up in the bad, that we forget to see the good. From a teen’s perspective, it can seem as though we are constantly putting demands and expectations onto them and that they fall short of these. Continually being upset with them confirms this.

Instead, seek ways to praise behaviour and look for the things you like in your child. Focus on those and communicate that we see and appreciate them.

Teaching a teen how to look for these positives in themselves and life is a great long-term skill. Reframing negative statements or doom and gloom thinking and giving them a new way to look at situations enables them to view life more positively too.

4. Mutual respect. Asking for and giving respect. Establishing what behaviour is acceptable (whilst ignoring some of the more minor attitudes, like eye rolls) and modeling that as we communicate with our teen. Firmly communicating what is and isn’t acceptable and always noticing when our teen complies.

5. Love openly. Be warm, loving and empathetic even if it’s not reciprocated. Showing our teen love, displays their importance to us. A great way to demonstrate this is by communicating it. It’s easy to stop doing this when many conversations are met with hostility. But even though this can be challenging, showing a teen that we want to spend time listening to them and sharing with them, expresses our love and interest.

Looking for ways we can demonstrate our teen’s value, whilst consistently modeling respect and the way to behave positively and politely, supports an overall better attitude.

For more useful tips on how to manage teens, look at our other strategies here. 

This article is by Judith Yeabsley

Judith is an AOTA accredited picky eating advisor and internationally certified nutritional therapist. She works with 100+ families every year resolving fussy eating and returning pleasure and joy to the meal table. She is also available to run workshops.

Judith is mum to two boys and the author of Creating Confident Eaters and Winner Winner I Eat Dinner. Her dream is that every child is able to approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear.




Sign up for practical parenting tips

Receive our articles on parenting once a month by joining the Parent Help email list

Subscribe to our newsletter