How to Handle a Rude Teen

laura kastnerDr. Laura Kastner is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington.  She is the co-author of several books for parents of adolescents including one of our favorite parenting books for parents of tweens and teens called: Gettingto Calm: Cool-headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens.  Early this year we had an opportunity to chat with Dr. Kastner about teens, how they develop and what parents can do to support their growth.  As the new school year begins, with its many opportunities and challenges, we thought it might be helpful to share a video excerpt of our interview with Dr. Kastner where she talks about Helping Teens Learn from Mistakes.


Holiday times can be stressful for everyone. For teens, who may already be on edge, adding the stress of the season, concerts, exams, the pressure of purchasing presents for friends can lead to some negative behavior toward parents. Getting to Calm author and parenting expert, Laura Kastner helps to illuminate the teen perspective so that parents can better understand the reasons for increased rudeness in adolescence and strive to diffuse the tension without having to accept poor behavior. Greater clarity and helpful tips can help alleviate parents’ stress during the holidays and long after.

In this interview clip, Parenthetical facilitator, Becky, asks, Teens are often sassy and rude to their parents. Can you tell us a little bit about why this is the case, and what parents might be able to do about it?” 

Listen to Dr. Kastner’s reply here:

Share your thoughts!

Dr. Kastner says, “And so as long as it sort of heals itself over time, if you will, I would rather not pick my battle on rudeness per se.” But also that, “There are times when you really want to pull them up by their short hairs and say I have a greater expectations for you.”

How do you decide which behaviors can be ignored, and for how long? What are your “tipping points”?



Teens are often sassy and rude to their parents. Can you tell us a little bit about why this is the case, and what parents might be able to do about it?

I find that when I talk to large parenting groups, rudeness is often the first item in a list that parents complain about. It really does seem to be intrinsic to the developmental period. Given what they are going through all day, and given all of our expectations, we sometimes don’t appreciate what they are going through. You know, they have to get up in the morning way earlier than they want to be, they have to get through their routine, sit in classes all day, work hard, restrain their impulses to express disappointment and rage about this and that, or be as threatened as they are about all the things that go on in their peer groups. They come home, they are expected to do chores, homework and so forth. They are really tired of all of that agenda that other people have for them, and of course they are securely attached to their parents and so they let their hair down with their parents. Just like they got into the carpool when they were 3 or 5 or 8, it’s still the same, only more intense because with hormones, all emotions are more intense. With the brain remodeling, all impulse control is going to be more difficult.

So even though they say it is basically important to be respectful to their parents, in reality they are feeling so irritable about our agenda to have them go through their forced march up of behavioral expectations that we have for them. So I feel like rudeness is what we call in biology overdetermined. Meaning, first of all, just like all children, they are tired, they let their hair down with their parents. Second of all, they are individuating from their parents, so they’re motivated to kind of cut us down. I see parents as a big oak tree and when they cut parents down they get a little bit more sun for their little fledgling sapling growth because they brought their parents down a few inches. Thirdly, we have all these things we want them to do, and so why wouldn’t they feel irritable in response?

Also, by displacing, anytime someone displaces on another, a “dump” if you will, it’s like “I’m going to have a tantrum, leave all that emotion on your doorstep, and then when I walk off I feel a litttle lighter and it’s now on your doorstep.” So I feel like there are many many reasons why they are rude to us all the way through childhood, but especially in adolescence. And of course, moodiness, reactive, feeling the sensation of all that’s imposed on them, they are going to act out.

So these are the things I recommend (and most psychologists):

First of all, we really want to pick our battles. And since we really do want to insist on obedience regarding homework, rules, or going to bed on time, or not hitting their brothers, or doing their chores… a lot of psychologists like myself would say ignore what you can. All attention is reinforcing, so if we go on and on about their rudeness, they’ll probably be more rude because we are giving them attention for it.

Secondly, as long as it’s not expletives, or humiliating the siblings, or name calling, sometimes when we talk about rudeness they are saying, “Oh mom, you don’t know anything,” or, “You exaggerate everything,” or, “You’re ruining my life.” We might want to take a moment and say do we really want to take that on? I’d rather have them do their homework and obey the electronics rules. So I call this the riff raff of child rearing, that rudeness will come out. And truly, by the time they are 16, 16 ½ and older, they have the ability to reflect and actually see their behavior in perspective, and they usually put a lot more curb on that, especially in public, but also privately. And so as long as it sort of heals itself over time, if you will, I would rather not pick my battle on rudeness per se. Now that said, you know, ignore the riff raff if you can, but there are times where it gets up to a level where they are showing off among their friends or being extra rude. There are times where you might want to just say, “Okay, I want you to up your game for this occasion,” or, “I noticed that you’re getting really kind of unhinged when your friends are around.” So, there are times when you really want to pull them up by their short hairs and say I have a greater expectation for you.

But I think if you ignore a lot of the riff raff it gives you more room to actually have higher expectations for certain times. And certain times, when it gets over a certain boundary, parents can decide policies, or take something away, giving them a warning to reign it in or else, and then the “or else” can be if they didn’t that there is a consequence.

So those are the three kinds of things I recommend for rudeness. Mainly ignore, if possible. 



Article by Becky Mather

Becky is an Outreach Specialist for the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Much of her work centers on parenting education and adolescent development. She and her husband are the parents of two young adults and a 13 year old son. Becky is a Certified Family Life Educator.