Teaching a young child to say please and thank you is one thing, but struggling to get your teenager to be polite to you is quite another. The truth is that most teens are more polite to other people than they are to their own parents. This is due to a number of things, including the fact that you are the person he feels most comfortable with and as a result is more easily frustrated with. It is also due to the fact that teens are going through a transformation phase and are experimenting with their independence. Politeness is one area where they tend to test the waters. However, there are ways to help your teen be more polite while going through this life change.
- Avoid demanding your child to use polite words – it only causes a power struggle that did not exist before you made the demand. Saying to a teenager “I am not giving you this until you say please” only creates a struggle for control. It does nothing to teach the child why he should use polite words. When a child becomes a teen, the more important thing to teach is tone of voice. Instead of demanding he talk courteously, tell him why you don’t like the tone of voice he used. “I don’t care for the way you asked me to do that. It seems to me like you don’t respect me when you talk to me like that.”
- ALWAYS speak politely to your teen – this is a very difficult endeavor to be sure, but until every word that comes out of your mouth is said with care, composure and calmly, you cannot expect your teenager, who has hormones that are going crazy, is trying to be independent and yet is scared all at the same time, to be the only one in the room speaking with civility. If you have a history of speaking with unkind words or tone to your child, now is a great time to turn over a new leaf. If you do decide to change the way you speak, it is a good idea to communicate this change with any child, especially teenagers. Your words can help bridge some of the disconnection he feels toward you because of the words you have used in the past. Let him know that you are aware you will not do this perfectly. Bad habits are very hard to break. Ask him for his help in your conversion. Together find a word or phrase that he can use when he feels that you are not speaking to him with courtesy. You then need to agree to ALWAYS take a step back when he uses it. You should also work out the same agreement with him. Maybe it is the same word and maybe it is a different one. But know that if you break your promise to take a step back when he uses that word, he is going to too.
- Don’t embarrass him in front of others, especially his peers. The social world of a teenager is a very difficult place to be. The pressure he feels from friends is not a small concern to a teenager. Parents who make light of the pressure their child feels to fit in, be liked or at least not be noticed run the risk of pushing their child away. There is a very good chance that your teenager will refuse to act polite when around his friends and other children. It is never a good idea to deal with the conflict at the time of the offense. It can be very difficult to refrain from correcting your teen around his peers; however, you have to remember that there is a good chance there are other people watching too. The eyes of judgment can be overwhelming and make you want to set the record straight and demand that your child treat you with respect. The best thing you can do is to take a step back and talk to your child about it after he is away from anyone else. He will no longer have the pressure of other people to show off for and you will be able to be calmer about the situation.
Parenting teens can often be a thankless job because the child rarely wants to show his love the way he used to when he was little. However, watching him begin to grow into a healthy and happy person can be rewarding, especially if the expectation for him to be perfect is not there. Understanding that at this time in your child’s life he is testing his own abilities, desires and his decision whether or not to show respect is really important to the growing up process.