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When Your Teen Disrespects Authority

Disrespect is one of the biggest issues plaguing families with teens today. Yet many parents struggle to figure out how to nip this destructive behavior in the bud. In this article, I’ll identify helpful ways to correct disrespect at home—and harmful reactions that only make it worse!

What Might Your Teen Be Communicating with His Disrespect?

Why is my child acting disrespectfully? It may be that your teen is getting older and naturally wants to make more of his own decisions. Your teen may simply be letting you know: “I want more control over my life.” However, it may also be that your teen feels judged; and in response to that feeling of being disrespected themselves, your teen is responding in kind. Or it may be that because they see YOU disrespecting others, your teen is following your example. But there are also times when teens are hurting. They may be lonely or in pain, but are not yet equipped with the appropriate way to handle these feelings. As you study your teen and look at what’s motivating their disrespect, you’ll know how to respond and train them to become a respectful, mature adult.

UNHELPFUL Ways to Respond to Disrespect

You should not ignore disrespectful behavior. But you do need to be careful about how you respond. If you act in a disrespectful way by shaming your teen, calling him names, or yelling in anger, you are simply training your teen how to be disrespectful in return. If you are angry, you need to stop and figure out what you’re not getting and find a better way to deal with your frustration. You may not like it, but the reality is that sometimes you’ve got to win the right to be heard, even with your own kids.

HELPFUL Ways to Respond to Disrespect

First, you need to decide what you believe about disrespect. What is the difference between teasing, sarcasm, and disrespectful behavior? What is it that you dislike about disrespect? Take time to clearly communicate the expectations and the consequences for disrespect to your teens. Then, when your teen is disrespectful, wait until you’re calm to sit down and talk to your teen. It’s okay to call out the disrespect that you see. Talk about what that communicates and why you won’t tolerate it. Ask questions to find out why your child is treating others poorly. This might happen by just asking a few thoughtful questions. But sometimes it takes more effort to get to your teen’s heart. In fact, your teen may not immediately know why they’re acting this way.

Always treat your teen with kindness and respect. You do not have to act disrespectfully to someone who is disrespecting you. It’s called grace. Instead, move toward your teen and help her think through the reasons for her behavior. As you show respect, your teens will “catch” your respectful attitude and eventually it will become part of the atmosphere of your home. Remember, you’re playing the “long game.” Your teen might not turn around immediately. Resist the urge to react immediately and punish too harshly. Overcorrecting your teen can push your teen into further disrespect if they can’t see a way to move forward or any hope for change. Instead, look for the gradual improvement that shows growth.

Things to Remember Concerning Disrespect and Authority

You may have grown up at a time when respecting authority was normal. But that isn’t the case today. Your teens live in a disrespectful world. Think about how people in authority are portrayed and talked about today. It’s no surprise that your teen has picked up on some of this disrespect and brought it home. Your teen will start acting like everybody else if he’s not intentionally taught how to be respectful. Rules, consequences, boundaries, high standards, and discipline at home are important, but they must be cushioned by relationship. Appealing to your relationship with your teen, to gain respect, is the most effective means of earning respect. You cannot force your teen to respect you. It won’t work.


Hey moms and dads … your teens are growing up in a tough world. The negative comments about those in authority along with the atmosphere of criticism and ridicule is a pretty easy mindset to get caught up in—and your teens are no exception. Disrespect is everywhere around every corner and is unavoidable. So the fact that some rubs off on your teens, shouldn’t really be that much of a surprise. Your role is to give them a reason to respect and to be an example of someone to be respected. Your response to the world, along with the way that you engage with those that disagree with you, are opportunities to shine in the midst of the sometimes-critical contempt swirling all around us. You must be a light in the darkness, a gentle voice in the chaos, and an assurance that your mindset doesn’t have to be affected by those who act and portray something opposite.

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.