Teen Talk

Carol Osborn is an early childhood educator and president of CAO Training Associates which offers workshops on parenting and early childhood education. She is the mother of six grown children and grandmother of thirteen.

Dear Carol,

My daughter’s is 13 and I’m seeing a lot of “attitude” from her. When I ask her to do something she’ll shrug her shoulders or sigh, as if I am imposing a great burden on her. She’s also giving me a lot of “back talk”. I remind her of family rules. Some of my friends with teenagers say they have been facing this for some time now, even as teens get older. How do I deal with this?

Diane C., Warrenton, Va.

Dear Diane,

After having raised six children (four teenagers at one time), I understand your frustration. I also know from experience and education that you are embarking on a tumultuous time of growth for your child. Research shows that during the teen years, children go through stages of identity and confusion. For teens there is a sameness and continuity with others, yet there is also confusion as they are unable to see themselves as a productive member of society.

Your daughter is your child, but she is also a person in her own right. She has some strong thoughts and feelings about things, and they may not always be in agreement with yours. Many times they are in agreement with peers, as these relationships are very important at this stage in life. As in any positive interaction, the best way to seek understanding and hopefully agreement is by listening to the other person first to understand them before having them understand you.

Try looking at your daughter directly when asking her to do something. If you sense disagreement either from tone or body language, take the time to find out what she is thinking. You might say, “It looks like that displeases you. Tell me what you don’t like about it.” This is a way of identifying her feelings and asking an open-ended question that is not accusing or confrontational.

With all discipline strategies, it’s important to stay calm. Let her know you understand her dissatisfaction by using words such as, “I can see why you’d rather do something else right now.” This understanding does not mean you agree. Then continue on with, “And this has to be done now, then you can choose what else you’d like to do after that.” Using the word, “and” instead of “but” is important here. When you use the word “and” you make a connection for the child; when you use, “but” you are negating any understanding of the feelings you professed earlier.

It takes time and patience to be a parent. It also takes strong conviction in our beliefs as well as an understanding of child development and effective communication techniques. A book that can help is, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Maslish. It is an older book written in the 1980’s, but it is still very relevant today.

Remember that your daughter has a mind of her own, and also remember you are the parent and have every right (and responsibility) to guide her in learning respect for herself and others. Doing this in a gentle and firm way (with lots of common sense) will make living with your teenager more enjoyable for all of you!

Other suggested resources:

Positive Discipline for Teens: Empowering Your Teens and Yourself Through Kind and Firm Parenting by Jane Nelson, Crown Publishing Group, April 1, 2000

Parenting Teens With Love and Logic: Preparing Adolescents for Responsible Adulthood by Foster Cline (an other contributors), NavPress Publishing Group, May 31, 2006

Do you have a parenting question that you’d like answered?
Email Carol Osborn at


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