I just returned from a family-friendly vacation resort. I lost count of how many tweenagers I saw with their hands on their hips, rolling their eyes, and sighing exasperatedly at their parents while complaining about how dumb their five-star all-inclusive Caribbean vacation is. I had to laugh because it is funny to watch, but I’ve been there and I know how it feels to be the parent on the receiving end of rude behavior.
Of course, there are some middle school students who are very mature, responsible, and self-aware. They take good care of their things and make great choices and treat others with respect – especially their parents.
But for most middle school kids, it’s one of the hardest and most confusing times to be alive.
Our kids are becoming more independent every day as they grow into adults and prepare to launch into the real world, but during the middle school years they’re constantly oscillating between desiring independence and wanting their childish needs met by parents. Give them some grace while they mature through it.
This doesn’t mean you should accept rude behavior from your child.
It’s our job to parent our kids as long as they’re under our roof – and no, you probably can’t send him to live with his aunt until he’s graduated from middle school (although I’ve considered it.) If a comment or behavior wouldn’t be tolerated in the real world by a boss, a teacher, a spouse, coworker or friend, then your child needs a reminder about what is appropriate. When you’re handling rude behavior from your older child, it’s important to discern if it’s a momentary lapse brought on by hormones, or a choice to be intentionally disrespectful toward another person.
Here are some tips on handling rude behavior:
Be The Mature One
It’s our job to stay calm and use measured words without being demeaning back. It is not OK to speak to your child rudely even when they treat you rudely. Insist on respect and show respect. If you’re getting flustered, try to detach and come back to the conversation later. If you do get heated and say something you wish you hadn’t, model saying sorry.
Keep Your Sense of Humor
Approach as much rude behavior as you can with a sense of humor. Remember that kids at this age tend toward hyperbole – they really think that wearing long pants is “stupid” and that “no one does that anymore.” Give empathy even in the face of dramatization – remember it’s real to them! “I know, pants are stupid, but please go put them on anyway.”
Take a Time Out
My middle schooler still occasionally goes to time-out for back talk or rude arguing. The time out is just for him to calm down and think and return with a more mature approach. While it might seem like a twelve or thirteen year old is beyond time out, it’s not so much a consequence as regrouping time. You will both be less emotional about it later and you’ll have a better chance of getting through to your child.
Send a Note
Because middle-schoolers love senseless arguing and aren’t always thinking clearly, arguing back doesn’t help. “Yes, I know you can eat an entire bag of flamin hot Cheetos…but is that a good idea?” “Yeah, why wouldn’t it be?” Instead of getting caught up in a frustrating verbal disagreement where nothing gets accomplished, try sending your child a note. A text, an email, a typed or handwritten note gets the point across without emotion. Follow up later by saying “Did you get my note?” and “Do you have any questions about it?”
When your middle schooler is rude to you, it’s tempting to give up and step back to avoid confrontations with them. But instead, lean in! They need us the most in this awkward life stage. Remember that you are a role model and a the most important adult in their life; you’re not trying to be their best friend. I promise your middle schooler needs your voice and presence in their lives, even though they think and act like they don’t.
Make sure to still give your middle schooler lots of cringy hugs, even if he smells like BO (sometimes) and is hyper-aware of your chest (always).
Don’t Take it Personally
Try not to take it too personally when your child is rude to you – your kid doesn’t actually hate you. Remember that at this age your child feels his or her own emotions disproportionately but most tweens are comically unable to see the other side and truly don’t realize it’s hurting your feelings. They’ll be kind and sane again in a few years.
Focus On Their Potential
Address their weaknesses but always let your middle schooler know you see their potential. Find something you can genuinely compliment, even if it’s just that he’s wearing deodorant today! Our middle schoolers need to know we believe in them. “I’m really proud of you, keep up the good work!” goes a long way. Instead of accusing your child of “always being rude” say, “That sounded really rude, are you sure that’s what you meant?”
Don’t ever define them by their age-related lapses in judgment.
Middle school is a bumpy road, but they’ll come around.
Know Your Child
A good relationship is the foundation for respect…your kiddo has to believe you know and care about him/her. A lot of pressure is put on our middle schoolers to be popular, successful, smart, sporty, sexy, etc. My twelve year old son put it this way: “The hardest thing about being in middle school is keeping your reputation and making sure people like you.” -Kenan, 7th Grade. If this is how they feel about their peers, you can imagine how important it is for your child to be confident that you love and respect him/her.
However you choose to handle rude behavior in your house, remember that the emotional middle-school crazy train is a life stage and your pre-teens WILL grow out of it.
In the meantime, you’re going to need lots of wine and mom-friends who will keep you sane.
Photography: Lindsay Herkert Photography
Lindsay is a San Diego native, living the Austin life for two years now. She loves outdoor adventures with her three children; Declan, Lexi, and Nate and her quick-witted husband Adam of 14 years. She has a passion for documenting life’s ordinary magic through photography and is a proud contributor and team member of Offset Artist and Click Pro. When she’s not taking pictures, you’ll find her running, doing yoga, drinking a chai tea latte or baking chocolate chip cookies. You can find more of her photography on instagram @lindsay.herkert.