Written by Doctor G

Help for Parent with Disrespectful Teen – OMG! (part 2)

I have two step daughters 12 & 14. The fourteen year old is a very good person but can be very disrespectful when angry and she is angry when she has to do something she doesn’t want to do like laundry, feeding the dogs, dishes, cleaning her room etc She will talk back and talk down to me and her Mom (Mom is very lenient) and will not stop unless I threaten to take away cell phone and I know that is not the answer. She is very ungrateful all the time and we do everything within our boundaries.  She is in High School Band,Theater, and other functions which are great. Her grades are above excellent.

James, in TX

Tuesday we talked about how this family could get a system of chores in place that is rules-based rather than relying on yelling and leading to a lot of yelling.  It ended like this…

“Thursday we’ll tackle getting her to do this with a smile!”

OK, let’s not get crazy. We’re not going to inherently change anyone’s personality.

The issue here is that your step-daughter thinks that how she feels is more important than what she does, or what anyone else feels. That sense of entitlement is, I would guess, what is driving you the most nuts. For that, you and your wife need to agree upon and then enforce a different set of ground rules.

You mention that your wife is more lenient. My guess is that she would rather not argue with her daughters and so is more permissive because these are the only two options she has considered. Also, whether it is because of guilt or stress or feeling overwhelmed, your wife may not see the purpose (or feel she has the strength) to change her daughter’s behavior.

Suggest to your wife that:

  1. Allowing this 14 year old to speak this way to you both is giving your step-daughter unreasonable expectations for how she can behave in the world.
  2. Teaching her how to speak respectfully will help her:
    1. Do better in school.
    2. Get and keep a job.
    3. Find adult mentors.
    4. Make all of her relationships smoother.
  3. Beyond arguing or permitting this behavior, there is a third choice: a contract.

What is a behavior contract?

This is a written document (I’m big into writing things down, can you tell?) that outlines your expectations, the teen’s desires, and the connections between these two categories.

So, to focus on her attitude towards chores, you could make a communication contract, with three sections.


This outlines, very specifically, what you need. Here are a few possibilities:

  • Requests, not demands.
  • No insults, ever, to anyone in the family.
  • No shouting (if you can do the same).
  • No swearing (again, you have to abide by this as well).
  • Answer when spoken to.
  • Don’t slam doors.
  • Thank someone when helped.

You can’t just say “respectful speech” as that will not be clear enough what you need her to correct. That is like saying “just do it right” instead of teaching someone a skill.


This includes, but is not limited to, having a cell phone. I’ll bet you can think of a bunch of other things she counts on, like transportation to places besides school, social time with friends, new clothes beyond the very basics, music, access to a computer for more than just homework, a door on her bedroom… you get the idea, right?

Ask your step-daughter to list some privileges that she does not yet have, but wants to earn. Yes, earn! With her respectful communication!

Connect the dots.

Tie the fulfillment of your expectations to the continuation of her privileges. Again, be very specific. And try, when possible, to be logical. For example, if she slams a door, she loses the door on her bedroom.

Link improvements in behavior to increases in privileges, a way for her to actually earn the independence she wants.

Write it all down, and have everyone sign it. Then don’t argue. Don’t shout. Remind once, and enforce your contract.  It will take some time for her to really believe you. Be strong! And write back, tell us how it goes, please.


Have you ever contracted with a teen to improve behavior?

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