I was in the mall yesterday doing research on the way teen girls interact with their friends when shopping on their own. During a lunch break, I noticed a dad with his 5 year old son at the counter of an eatery. While Dad attempted to order lunch, the little boy repeatedly punched and slapped his father. As I watched (cringing) it struck me that the kid was neither angry or frustrated. He appeared to be enjoying this very funny game.
Dad’s response alternated amongst three modes: First he ignored the aggression. When the boy continued the abuse, Dad turned to his son and said with absolutely no conviction, “Now you stop that.” When that response only set the kid to giggling and continue swinging at Dad (and connecting), Dad one-handedly held on to both of the boy’s hands and kinda smile and laughed and then showed his son an exaggerated mock “I’m angry now” face. At that point Junior laughed harder and began kicking Dad! At that point Dad went back to ignoring his son again.
For a parent who’d probably say he’d like his son to treat him with respect, this father was transmitting some really screwed up messages. In the mind of a five year old, here’s how Dad’s response was interpreted: “Daddy doesn’t mind this behavior. In fact, I think he kinda likes when I do this. Looks like he’s having fun. I sure am! I’m gonna keep it up.”
We’ve all seen examples of how a parent’s response to their child’s disrespect only encourages more of the same. When it’s with unruly young children (and yours are teens or older) we’re quick to mentally note, “Bad parenting! Do something, you doormat! Don’t let your kid step on you like that.”
But when we’re faced with a rude and disrespectful teen or tween, we are not always so good at avoiding “doormatism.”
Sometimes we try to be “the good parent” to our teens by choosing not to yell when they are rude to us. That’s good strategy. It keeps our emotions in check so that we can think more clearly and parent more effectively. But completely ignoring a teen’s rudeness (sarcasm, attitude, put-downs, eye-rolling, etc.) or responding to rudeness in a half-hearted way, you only send the message that this is acceptable behavior. Exactly the message sent by that Dad in the mall. Problem is, that message is a flat-out lie that’s going to come back and bite you again and again and again.