Dealing with the Tween Attitude
by Dr. John Townsend
How do you curb the smart aleck attitude that kids get when they hit the tween years?
Their sarcasm. The muttering under their breaths. The “attitude.” The tween years of her kids are a phase in which a mom can feel discouraged, resentful or crazy because of the verbal defiance that she encounters. Why does this age generate a smart aleck attitude? There are two reasons. First, the tween years are a major developmental step into more independence from parents. Your child is feeling his or her oats, is finding friends and interesting activities and is working on “leaving and cleaving” (Genesis 2:24). Your adolescent is pushing against you a little or a lot, as he or she tries to separate his or her identity from others.
The second reason for the attitude shift is that your tween has discovered words! This age group demonstrates an increase in verbal skills. So the once sweet little preschooler is now an insult-slinging attorney who can match you in wits (actually, I have a lot of great attorney friends). It’s challenging, but you can help your tween with the ‘tude. Here are the skills you need to help both you and your adolescent:
Give your tweens appropriate amounts of freedom that match their age and maturity. The smart aleck attitude is sometimes driven by a desire to get some sense of identity. If a parent is too strict, the drive for independence morphs into sarcasm and disrespect. Since this is a time your child needs more autonomy, give it to him or her, as long as your tween earns it. That means going to bed later, more social time, more privileges, etc., as long as he or she is handling school, conduct and life well. That may go a long way to diminish the attitude. But your tween must be behaving well!
Make respectful honesty a norm. Sometimes the ‘tude is about a child’s inability to be clear about what he or she wants and needs. So your tween takes the indirect, disrespectful route. For example saying, “You’re lame,” may need to change to, “I’m angry at you because you won’t let me play more video games.” Teach your tween to use honest and direct language that is respectful. Often, your adolescent will be able to express his or her needs and frustrations better then and will not need to be a smart aleck.
Make room for humor. Sometimes a smart aleck kid is just a funny kid! Our kids joke a lot with my wife and me. It’s a great connector. But the line you shouldn’t let them cross is: When someone is being hurt or disrespected. “Gosh, Mom, nice driving” might just be how your family connects. But establish what’s OK and what’s not.
Set limits on what’s over the line. There are times that your tween will simply be trying to be mean or disrespectful. Bad attitudes are sometimes just bad attitudes. If he or she is being a smart aleck for this reason, set the limit and a consequence: “Rolling your eyes, slamming doors and using these words is not OK. I’m fine if you aren’t happy about something, but I’m not OK with this behavior. I’ve been specific with you so that you know what I’m pointing out. I can’t stop your behavior, but I can tell you that the next time I will remove “X” from your life for a “Y” period of time (fill in the “X” and “Y” blanks).
Be patient, understand your tween and hold the limits. My new book, “Beyond Boundaries” also has tips about how to handle life if your tween gets under your skin and actually hurts your feelings as well.
Dr. John Townsend is a psychologist, leadership coach and author of many books, selling over 5 million copies — including Raising Great Kids, Boundaries, Boundaries with Kids and Mom Factor — and is a host of the syndicated national radio program “New Life Live.”