Parenting Adolescents

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Top 3 Parenting Issues
On Attitude, Respect, and Chores as "Top 3" Issues in Parenting Adolescents
by Karen Martin

You recently completed a poll* of your "top 3" issues in parenting your teens and pre-teens. From 27 possible issues to choose from, you selected "negative attitude," "lack of respect for parents," and "chores" as the "top 3." "Attitude" was included by more of you than any other issue.

Why "attitude?" Why "respect?"

These two are essentially interpersonal-relationship issues rather than "behaviors." And they are very much alike. So much are they alike that I'm not sure we should have included them as separate issues in the survey. Your child's exhibiting a negative attitude is, after all, likely to be experienced by you as a child's "lack of respect," and vice versa. If you add together all the votes for "attitude" and "respect," you find that 93% of all participants included one and/or the other as a "top 3" issue!

In other words, almost all of you who participated in this poll have an issue with your teen's or pre-teen's emotional stance toward you.

Why is this so?

You have to remember that what your teen/pre-teen is all about is getting separate from you and becoming his or her own person. The nearly universal teenage "bad attitude" has multiple meanings and motivations. But one common function of "having a bad attitude" or "disrespecting" you is to demonstrate--to himself and you--your child's capacity to resist depending on you.

It's like they're saying, "Testing, testing, 1...2....3.... Can I survive your getting mad at me, Mom, Dad? Can you survive my being negative toward you sometimes? Can we both survive my need to push away from you?"

Parents who want to learn more about attitude, respect can also go to the Archives and read the Q&A's on "attitude," "autonomy/independence," "communication," and "family relations," or almost any other topic in the Archives, for suggestions on management of these issues.

Chores: arguments about them, whining about them, failure to perform them.... Nag, nag, nag on one side and whine, excuse, protest on the other.... A not very pretty but very typical parent/teenager form of communication.

"Chores" were ranked as among the "top 3" parenting issues by almost 25% of you (a significant percentage, given that there were, remember, 27 possible issues to select from). This is the only actual behavioral issue that was chosen among the "top 3"--that is, an issue about what adolescents do/do not do. Arguing, complaining about, and failing or forgetting to do chores is probably the most common and again among the most harmless ways in which adolescents and budding adolescents demonstrate their need and ability to push against parental expectations and to resist their need for your approval.

Different families have different routines and expectations and traditions around chores, but where some performance of household duties is expected of family members, the adolescent finds a ready-made way of going against the flow, if only just to prove that s/he can.

For more on "chores," and how to handle this issue, see this topic in the Archives, along with "rooms" and "autonomy/independence."

You can ease your own anxiety and salve your wounded feelings if you can remember that your children, during adolescence and as it approaches, are engaging in healthy struggles, whose potential results--standing on their own two feet and knowing who they are--are goals that in fact you probably support.

There is no question that the struggle is hard, that it is difficult, that it is painful and even dangerous. It is also inevitable, in healthy children, and, like your child's learning to walk, can and most often does afford significant rewards to both parties, along with bumps and scrapes and near-miss injuries. A difference is that, during adolescence, unlike the learning-to-walk phase, you take some of the bumps along with your kids: beginning, often enough, with surviving their attitude. 

Copyrighted © Parenting Adolescents, 1999-2009; 2010. all rights reserved. 

This page may be printed out for personal use. For the right to distribute or quote on a web site or in other media, contact Jean Walbridge of


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This article followed results of the very first Parent Poll at several years ago. It's interesting that the article is still very relevant today, as the #1 issue in the current poll is STILL "attitude, lack of respect," for parents of teens.

The #2 issue back then was "chores," which now comes in fifth. In the current poll results, "academics" ranks as the #2 issue, followed by "lying" and "mood swings."

The information and counsel given in this article are so valuable that we find the page is a favorite one at the site. So we're re-offering it here.

Jean Walbridge still answers parents' and teens' questions, and many of Karen Martin's old answers are available in the Archives.

Send in your own question and/or participate in the current parenting issues Poll.
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