How to Address Disrespect and Swearing by My 13 Year Old?

Updated on January 07, 2016
S.S. asks from Kimberly, ID
15 answers

My son has been calling me "b1tch" and a "stupid b1tch" - but not to me. He said this to my boyfriend of 7 years. My boyfriend is VERY respectful and does not swear in front of my son. I am very careful to show respect to my son by spending time with him on the things that are important to him, listening to him, encouraging him. But he spends every other weekend with his father, from whom I was divorced 9 years ago when my son was 4. My son comes back from "dad's" all devil-may-care, spewing bad language and not caring about basics, won't do chores, etct. Now that he has started with what I consider extremely disrespectful behavior in a scenario he had to know he'd get in trouble for - what do I do? Does he truly not care that he is disrespectful and hurtful? Is it possible he thinks what he said is true? Is there really another issue? I feel like I've failed my child. The trauma of the divorce and the daily legacy of that, the back-and-forthing, 2 sets of rules, and the whole painful mess - I can only tell him that his dad and I love, him but it won't change and we'll have to find the way to make the best of it. As a family, we have no choice but to go forward, but how? As of now I'm planning to take away everything from his room that is nonessential and he'll have to earn his "toys" and privileges back - along with our respect. What I don't know is - will this work? And is there any way to counteract "what happens at dad's house"? Any advice would be welcome.

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So What Happened?

Thank you all so much for the advice and caring out here. I am floored to find you all, and so completely grateful.
Update: It went much better than I thought it would. I tool the advice to go in strong (ie...not cry, be a victim, etc) and it worked. I took the advice not to take everything away, and I think that worked too. He lost the monitor to his computer, which we moved upstairs so he can still do homework - but in the front room. He has no access on his phone but calls, texts and alarms. He has a renewed list of chores with a checklist. And 30 days to show that he has learned what respect is, why it is important, and how to demonstrate it. If he slips up and/or swears, he gets a "mark". Seven marks and the 30 days starts over. Also, if he swears, he is to sit down and write out at least 3 other ways he could have communicated or expressed himself. He was really very cheerful after the family talk. I told him I would be the strong mother he needed me to be, and he seems to have responded to that.
As for cooperating with his dad in any way? I've tried for years, and he still commits new atrocities of disrespect and gall, and refuses to sit down to talk with me. He just spews ultimatums into the phone or across the yard, talks over me or literally walks away. We try to have any interactions away from my son for obvious reasons. Family counselors have asked us to find another counselor due to the dynamic he brings to the meeting (including wearing his holstered handgun on his belt - into the psychologists office)!.
Love and Logic is one of the first things I read when we learned we were to have a child. I read it again after the divorce, listened to the tapes, etc.. Turns out CPS isn't a fan. However, L&L is a precious and valuable resource for me. It just doesn't always translate to extreme situations. Maybe it's the translator!

Anyway - thank you all for your advice. I felt much more secure in the approach I needed to take after reading what you all have written here. I did make changes to what I intended to do, and we have had a good result (so far!).

Featured Answers


answers from Norfolk on

You tell him you love him and how would he feel if you called him bad names?
You just don't talk to people you love that way - or anyone for that matter.
If he's going to act like a jerk, then call him on it and he gets no tv/phone/recreational screen time (perks he has to earn with good behavior) until he DOES earn it.
He might lose his bedroom door too.
He's got some growing up to do.
Unfortunately it might take him awhile to get there.

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answers from Washington DC on

with a teenager you have to be very careful about just reacting with victimhood (you are hurting me! you are making me feel bad!) or oppression (removing everything.)
there is a place for both, but only very, very selectively.

if you move past 'he's being rude and calling me bad names and i need to fix him' to 'my kid is being torqued out of shape by weekends of poor parenting and i need to help him' it may put things into a better perspective.

at 13 he DOES look to his dad to learn how to be a man. a great place to start would be to develop a useful relationship with your ex so that these situations can be discussed and handled by both of you in the interest of doing what's best for your son.
if that's not an option, then you and your boyfriend need to provide both boundaries (ie your boyfriend saying firmly and immediately 'i won't tolerate that sort of language about your mother in my presence') and understanding ('outside of our home you're going to encounter all sorts of language and behaviors, sweetheart, but this is what we expect when you're here. the rules won't change.')

down the road if he truly becomes an asshat you can wring your hands and wail 'i've failed my child!'

but right now stop focusing on you and focus on your kid.

i've never had to remove everything from a kid's room and force them to earn it back, so i can't really speak to that. i guess if he's utterly defiant and rude and completely unwilling to listen to you at all, you may have to go there. but in my experience it's very counter-productive to try and outmuscle an adult-in-training. at best you may get him to knuckle under, but a compliant-but-seething-and-resentful young person isn't really what you want, is it?

there's no easy fix for this situation. it's a constant tightrope dance of absolute boundaries, picking one's battles, and unconditional love and acceptance.

having absolute boundaries does NOT mean one cannot be flexible under the right circumstances.
unconditional love and acceptance does NOT mean any and all rudeness, defiance and ugly behavior has no consequences.

if you are unable to establish and maintain good boundaries and find consequences that work, you should find a good family counselor and all of you go.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Wichita Falls on

It sounds like the name calling and disrespect are just the symptoms, you need to find out what is causing it. It could very well be normal teenage rebellion, but it sounds like there is a lot of anger there. Punishments may stem the name calling, but until you find out the source of the anger, the resentment will just find a new outlet.

It could be as simple as a heart-to-heart conversation (one where you do all the listening), or, if this has been building since the divorce, it may require a counselor.

Raising a teen can be tough, just hang in there.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I suggest reading a parenting book from the Love and Logic series. Foster Cline is one of the others. L an L also has a eb site describing their "style."

Their logic is based on providing consequences that teach right behaviour instead of punishing wrong behaviour. When I focus on teaching, I'm able to find consequences that are related to the behaviour I want to change. I started with the simple consequence of sending a child to their room because I don't want to hear that language or be around that behaviour.

At first my grandchildren refused to go. I just stood there looking at them (the "evil" eye, without saying anything. All activity in that room stopoed until they left. TV turned off ignoring everything the child said. Projecting calm expectation they will leave. My daughter and I started this when they were young. They mostly automatically go to their room when given that straight on, this is not acceptable look. At first, one of their parents guided them to their room.

Your son is too big to guide. I would accept him leaving without insisting he,go to his room. I suspect, you will have to spend 5 minutes or more staring him down before he leaves. The purpose of doing this is to teach him you will not accept such behaviour and you will not let him engage you in a fight. Once we fight with a child we lose.

We cannot preach our child into obedience. When we take away things unrelated to the misbehaviour, we encourage more anger. That is not to say never take away things. Just remove things when they are related to misbehaviour.

Sending them to their room or out of your presence is not a time out. They decide when they are willing to be respectful and return to your presence.

At a time, when things are more mellow, I would ask them what they suggest you do to help them be able to show respect. Again, don't get caught up in his anger which is his way of taking away your intention to teach. If he's willing to have a reasonably calm conversation, talk about your expectations of respect.

Along the way tell him you recognize how difficult it is for him to be in a home that has different expectations of him than you do. Be careful to not criticize or judge his father. He will defend his father. Remember that your goal is to teach him how to behave in your house.

Teaching in a mostly confident, calm way is different than your usual way of responding. We become angry when we feel powerless. I suggest he also feels powerless. He is powerless to change the conflict between your expectations and his Dad's. He will fight back until he realizes that you will be consistent in your discipline. That you, even tho you don't condone his father's influence on him, you accept it as something over which you have no control. You love him and want all of you to be comfortable in your family. Never mind what his father does. You really cannot change his Dad. You are unlikely to change your son with punishment. You have a much better chance of controlling his behaviour with love and logic.

I also suggest you be the one to discipline him. Children are more able to accept a step-parent if they don't discipline in situations like this. It is normal for a child/teen to have less respect for a step-parent than a parent. I suggest that may be why your son is using those words with him. He may also be trying to break up the two of you.

Respect has to be taught. I suggest it would be normal for him to feel you disrespect him.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

What Suz said.

This is the point, more than ever, that he is going to learn how to treat women and be a man. You HAVE to show him what a strong woman looks like. He's only going to learn that from you. And if you respond with self doubt and insecurity, the way his Dad talks about you is going to come to life. You're proving him right.

You need to tell him that you will not tolerate being spoken to or about that way, and take him to task for it. If he thinks he can berate you and push you around, your next few years are going to be hell.

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answers from Washington DC on

My stepson was about 12 when he started to act aggressively toward his father after visits with his mother. DH put him in football and had some man to man talks about respect, his feelings, his conflicting emotions regarding his mother, etc. But to this day I can tell when they have too much interaction with their mother - they get rude, dismissive, etc. And they are adults now. SD more than SS. We used to call the first day back "detox day". We had to remind them over the following 24-48 hours that yes, there were chores and rules and no you can't have soda and chips for breakfast. As an adult, my SS asked his dad why he was such a "hard @$$ sometimes." DH said, "Because your mother was so far the other direction, someone had to reel you in." Be steady. Most kids grow up and learn to appreciate who was steady and true.

If he never got therapy to deal with the divorce, it is not too late. I think my stepkids could have used a therapist but their father thought they were "fine".

How do you react? To be honest, I also called my mother horrible things when I was a teen. That's not unusual teen behavior. However, it was made clear that wouldn't be tolerated. My grandmother stepped in and told me in no uncertain terms to be respectful to my mother. I grew up, grew out of it, and my mother and I are fairly close now. I really respect all she tried to do and did do for us.

Is there another adult he respects who would talk to him? If he's telling your boyfriend that you are a "stupid b!tch" then what does BF say? Does BF say that is disrespectful to the woman he loves, and your son isn't allowed to refer to you that way to him? Have you had any family meetings? Bringing the ex to the mix will only be good, IMO, if the ex is that kind of coparent. In our case, it would just make her go "Haha, now I know what will tick you off" and keep encouraging it. In some situations, you have to parallel parent vs coparent.

You might also read the book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and/or the one something like I Hate You, but first will you take me and Cheryl to the mall?

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

My kids go to their dads every other weekend and it's an adjustment every time they come back. So I think that is normal, it's just different at both houses.

We have house rules and a chore chart, they hang on the fridge. If they don't do the chores after school when I check at 4pm then they lose their electronics for the rest of the day. If they talk back or whine or grunt or anything else disrespectful, they spend 15 minutes in the front dining room by themselves. They are 16 and 13. Yes, this works at their age, we got it from our couselor. At first they would grumble but they did it. If they came out after the 15 minutes and said something else disrespectful, they would go back for another 15, you just keep doing it. We have not had to do this more than a couple times before they knew we were serious and now we don't have a problem.

You need to sit down with your bf and come up with some house rules of your own and the key is to be consistent with the consequences. Every decision you make has a consequence. You call me a B-- then you sit by yourself. You don't do the dishes after school, you lose electronics (phone, tablet, playstation). Whatever works for you. But you both have to be on the same page and you teach him that is not ok to treat ANYONE like that. You don't have any control over what happens at his dads house but you lay down the law with him at yours. Good luck.

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answers from Portland on

We discipline like osohapi and it works here (fairly well).
My kids get privileges (like their electronics) by helping out, doing chores and babysitting. If those things are not done, then no hockey, lose their phone, etc. That was the deal.
When the kids were little, if they didn't clean up their toys - those toys were gone (for a while). Just a house rule.
If one of mine says something out of line - they don't get to join us (much as osohapi describes). If it's serious - then they miss out on family stuff. If you're kind and respectful to our family, you get to participate and we welcome you in. If you're having a bad day and in a bad mood and taking it out on us, then no you don't. We've done that since the toddlers had tantrums. Still works with teens. I find it gives them time to cool off, I am not going to expend my energy trying to deal with a difficult kid, we generally talk once they've come back, and typically we get to the bottom of what's bothering them.
I have had an incident of that kind of language recently. What I found was (after a lot of talking and even talking with a teacher) is that kids these days are using words like that very casually - without considering the consequences. Words like that are being used on our bus for example. And at school. In fact, what disturbed me was finding out that friends even call each other these kinds of names. The teacher was telling me it's common to hear words like that in the hallways.
I would talk to your son about how hurtful those kinds of words are. And disrespectful. My kids said "you know I didn't mean it that way". So that was a talk we had.
If there are bigger issues - that your son is having a hard time with going back and forth between families, or feeling anger or resentment - therapy can help. Some teens just like having a person to share their feelings with that isn't mom or dad. Some kids don't like it - you can try to just listen. One of mine is like this. Gets pretty out of sorts at times (very sensitive, emotional type reserved kid) and I just go in at times to his room and hang out. Listen. Stuff starts coming out - slowly. If I join in on what they are doing, they will open up.
Good luck :) Keep us posted.

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answers from Philadelphia on

At 13 yo I can't imagine taking away all nonessential things in his room is going to work. I believe he will just grow to resent you and it will confirm in his mind that your are in fact a "b1tch".

I think you should express your disappointment that he would even say such a thing. I would also tell him that he doesn't have to like you but he does have to show respect towards you. I would also remind him that you are not a fool and that you will not continue to pay for his phone or guitar lessons or whatever else he does if he doesn't show you the respect you deserve.

I would also make it a point to spend lots of one on one time with him. Go out to dinner or go get ice cream with him. Pick him up from school so you have a chance to talk etc. I think having shared experience with your kids where you both enjoy yourself will make you close and get you through the teen years.

Best of luck.

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answers from Wausau on

If your son's father is encouraging this behavior, there isn't a lot you can do to solve the problem. It will just become a power struggle, and everything you that is punitive (taking stuff away) will push your son towards his dad, which is probably what his dad wants. This isn't an issue about your kid as much as it is about your ex.

You and your son need a therapist. That is your best shot. You can learn how best to parent in this scenario, and your son will have a safe person to talk to that won't rat him out to you or his dad.

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answers from Philadelphia on

Since he's a teen it's more complicated than just discipline-which is definitely needed! Good examples of respect in your own behavior and nice treatment of your kids are NEVER ENOUGH to curb the bad stuff. It's natural to push all those boundaries, and kids who can get away with being mean and disrespectful will. I know lots of super sweet, nice, parents with terribly disrespectful teens. Love and Logic is a great general practice, but not necessarily effective when things have gone awry. Think back to when people had much better manners in general in society, yet also disciplined much more firmly, THAT'S when most teens were respectful to adults. And discipline starts in toddler years, discipline for backtalk usually at age three to prevent it from ever being regarded as ok, so there's no quick fix at 13..but the show World's Strictest Parents which you can stream on computer is EXCELLENT for showing examples of super surly, disrespectful teens and how host families use love, logic, and effective (for teens) discipline to turn their attitudes around and make them appreciate their parents. Check out a few episodes, it's fun to watch! Some of the parents did do the room clear out thing (but for extreme situations like drugs in the house etc) and it does work if you really have the gumption to point out that all those possessions are LUXURIES that need to be earned back and stick to your word. But it may not be great or necessary for backtalk and general disrespect unless things get worse...You can see it in action on the show. What I like is how calm and loving the people are which is most effective for keeping the responsibility on the offenders..and it's moving to see it click when the teens realize how shitty they've been. And you can't control what happens at his dad's all you can do is set the rules in your own home. Good luck!

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answers from Anchorage on

can you talk to your ex so that the two of you can get on the same page about curbing the disrespect? It would help if the two of you could be friendly enough with each other to provide a united front.

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answers from Kansas City on

bottom line I think you're doing the right thing. whether it's in your earshot or stepdad's, either way - disrespect needs to be handled. he is 13, not 3. he is old enough to "get" that at different houses there are different rules. I would have a talk with him and point out that he is not a little kid anymore, and you expect him to remember your rules when he's at your house. I think what you're doing is going to help. the biggest thing is stick to your guns. if you say it's a week, it's a week. if you say he has to earn it back by being respectful and helping out with extra chores, enforce that. good luck.

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answers from Abilene on

Please rethink taking everything away. I think teaching is more important and agree with Suz, Marda and Osohapi. You need to remain calm as possible and not tolerate his mouth. I love the book Love and Logic for teens. If my kid swore at me, I believe it would go something like this:

You're being very disrespectful. Please remove yourself from my space until you are willing to behave well. If my kid began to try to argue with me, I would repeat over and over "I love you too much to argue with you." Your kid is 13 and too young to be able to drive himself where he needs to be. The very next time he needed something my response would be something like, gee Franklin, I would love to take you to meet your friends when you are respectful in our home. Maybe next time.

Please know it's going to be hard when he's between 2 homes. You can only control what you will tolerate. Being calm and kind is the best stance. Having your boyfriend tell him he won't tolerate his disrespect toward you is also a good step.

You can't control his mouth, but you can control your reactions to it and not be agreeable to do anything for him until he figures it out.

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answers from Amarillo on

It is probably his age where he is testing you with what he says. Also, if dad is how you describe he could be picking up all kinds of negative thoughts from his visits.

Do emphasize to your son that you are not to be treated with disrespect. Do have consequences as you have described and stick to them. He will learn one way or the other that this is not how to treat any woman especially your mother. Remember you have an upper hand when it comes to taking him places or allowing him to do things. He will not be allowed to participate because of his actions towards you and you have a short time left for him to "get it" in his head. Otherwise other people especially girls are not going to want to be around him.

Keep doing what you are doing. Don't take it so personal. You have not failed your child he is testing you. Stay strong, stay the course. The teens are just beginning and so soon he will be gone in 5 years or so. Pack in as much as you can. Show him love. One day it will click.

the other S.

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