“Talking back” seems to be something I see getting press in more and more mainstream American parenting articles, with comments something along the lines of, “We expect teenagers to talk back, but we don’t expect six-year-olds to talk back and this is really infiltrating down and down into younger and younger ages.”
I think this is an accurate depiction of what is going on in American society at least. I am hearing from parents about talking back and what to do about it from about age five or six on up.
So, How Did We Get Here?
In general, I think part of what has gotten us to this point is that authority in general in society has changed, especially since the 1960s. No longer are there figures of complete authority to obey without question and children see this in society. I am not saying these changes are bad! However, they do lead children to “question” authority more than before, and to also lead parents to be fearful of being an authority, because in our generation’s history this has often been linked with abuse of power and unfairness. Parents seem to walk a difficult line these days in regard to their views of authority and what that means in leading their own family.
The other large change has been the seeping of adulthood down into childhood, including the sheer number of choices a child has, the sheer power of decision-making a child has within the family structure and an awareness of the stress and pressures of the adults in the family. Related to this has been the seeping of the adult world of information down to the child’s level.
Many American families I speak with feel that part of their children’s talking back is related to that child feeling entitled to experiences or things. If you feel there is a correlation there, I would love to hear from you in the comment box!
For What Ages Is Talking Back the Biggest Problem?
From my mail, I am judging most parents are having difficulty with talking back during the six/seven year change, age eight (the age of boasting and bragging and exaggeration), and the years marketed as the “preteen years” – ages 10-12. Surprisingly, I don’t get a lot of mail from parents being frustrated with their teenager’s talk. I am not sure if that is because the talking back has actually died down at that age, or if parents are just used to it or something else. Again, I would love to hear from you in the comment box!
What Can I Do To Figure Out Where We Are Right Now?
- Always go back to the basics, especially for those under the age of 12. Are they overbooked and overscheduled? Too many choices and just generally holding too many opinions/ too much power? Are they getting enough sleep, rest, time for unstructured play, eating whole and healthy foods?
- What are your rules? What exactly constitutes talking back by your child to you? Does your child know what talking back really is and when they are doing it?
- How are you treating them? What kind of a model are you with them? If you are constantly sarcastic and snippy with them, then that is their model. That is exactly what they will parrot back to you. Are you respectful and polite as well?
- Are they more connected to their peers than to the family unit? The privileges of a sixteen or seventeen year old and the schedule of a sixteen or seventeen year old are not the privileges or schedule a ten year old should be having. If you need help knowing what is appropriate for a ten year old versus an older child, please leave me a comment and I will be happy to dialogue with you.
- What is their media intake? Unfortunately, many of the nicer “family” shows that used to be on television or in the movies are long gone. Today’s media often portrays a family where the children are snippy to their parents and seem to know much more than their hapless, bumbling parents. The fathers are typically portrayed as extra bumbling. Portrayals such as these really have not helped our society as a whole.
So What Can I Do?
- Spend time with your children doing things together and listening to your child. Get to know your child. If you don’t know who your child’s friends are, their favorite book, their favorite and least favorite class at school, their hopes and fears, then build that foundation so you can talk respectfully about how to treat each other in your family.
- Model what you want to see.
- Create a family identity. This is what it means to be part of this family, “I love you, I have your back, I will always help you”. You are part of this family, you matter and your behavior matters in and outside of this home.
- Notice the good and connect in that moment.
- You can attribute positive intent when children talk back and help them say what they need to say in a respectful way. “You seem really upset….” You can validate their feelings even if you cannot validate how they are speaking to you.
- Take stock of how many nice things you say to your child a day. Do you say anything nice to your child? Some parents feel ashamed when they tell me they really couldn’t think of the last nice thing they said to their child.
- Explain once in reply, and then do not engage in any back and forth verbal banter with your child. Just shut it down. GIve your child your full attention again when things are calm.
- Past the nine year change: Start to give your child the tools to deal with anger and frustration besides verbally and emotionally lashing out. For younger children, redirect them into work or being right by you.
- Remind politely how to request something or how to say things.
- Cut down on media, adult information overload and yes, even peer time until things are stabilized.
- Figure out your boundaries and what will happen when those boundaries are broken.
- Sometimes talking back is just talking back, but sometimes it is the surface tension of a child who feels overpowered, frustruated, not listened to and unloved. Only you can decide if you need some positive connection time or if you need more boundaries?
- If a child is cursing you, calling you names, threatening you – that is not “talking back”. That is abuse, and I highly recommend family counseling.
I want to hear your experiences and thoughts about talking back!
Blessings and love,