4 Ways to Handle Teenage Defiance and Rebellion

Back talk, eye-rolling, disrespect - if you live with a teenager, these are probably very familiar experiences. But they don't have to be. Savvy Psychologist, Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, joins Mighty Mommy with 4 expert tips on how to minimize defiant behavior.

Cheryl Butler
5-minute read
Episode #302


As the mom of 8 kids, I get asked dozens of questions about how I survived the countless sleepless nights with my newborns, overcame the struggles of toilet training, and managed to keep my sanity intact while being a stay-at-home mom with so many young children underfoot. But the question I'm asked most often hands down is how to handle a defiant and rebellious child.

Hundreds of Mighty Mommy listeners have written to ask for guidance on effective strategies that will turn their disobedient child into one that is respectful and well-mannered.  I've addressed this topic in several previous episodes, including 6 Tips for Handling a Defiant Toddler and 6 Ways to Handle a Defiant Teen (Without Yelling), but today, I'm thrilled to have my colleague, Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, otherwise known as the Savvy Psychologist, join me in addressing the topic that continues to weigh heavily on so many parents' minds.


Together, Dr. Hendriksen and I have sorted through the mailbag and chose two of the most common questions about defiant kids: how to get kids to be respectful and how to make consequences for bad behavior effective.

We've got tons of helpful tips for tackling both these questions, so here we go.

How to Change Defiance to Respect?

One Mighty Mommy listener wrote in exasperated:

"When I ask my teen to do something, I get eye-rolling and back talk. How do I get my child to act respectfully?"

Disrespect is frustrating - we’ve all been left in the wake of a smart remark, thinking “Did that just happen?” But you can’t force your child to act respectful.  And you probably don’t want them to put on an act anyway - I imagine you want the real thing.  Try these 3 tips:

Tip #1: Model respect in your interactions with your tween or teen.  This is the big one.  It’s basically the Golden Rule, but it’s even more important in a parent-child relationship, because you’re the role model.  Look at the difference between the following two examples.  Which is more respectful?  And, just as importantly, which is likely to be effective?

Disrespectful Parent: Why haven’t you started your homework yet?  It’s 7 o’clock already!  Do you want to fail your math test tomorrow?  I can’t believe this!

Respectful Parent: Hey, I know this video game is really fun, so you may have lost track of time.  It’s 7 o’clock, which is the time we agreed you’d start your homework.  I remember you have a math test tomorrow.

And it’s not just the words.  Tone and delivery count, too.  So don’t yell from the adjoining room while staring at your smartphone.  Go to them, make eye contact, and say it gently.  Then actually listen to the response.  You’ll probably never hear “Oh, thank you dear mother for your kind reminder,” but you may get a grunt of agreement and some actual action out of the second approach, rather than a smart remark.

Tip #2: Include your tween or teen in creating solutions for chronically disrespectful situations.   If you’re going through the same nagging motions night after night, call a meeting.  Sit down, calmly spell out the problem, and then surprise them: Ask them to think of some solutions.  Model respect for them by truly listening and making them a partner in the solution.  

For example, say your daughter is constantly battling with you over when to start homework. Say, “Hey, we’ve been having daily battles about when to start your homework and it’s not working for either of us.  I think you should start your homework at 7, but you’re often busy with something else.  How can we solve this?”  

Then, unleash another surprise: Let your child air her grievances (respectfully).  Maybe she hates it when you yell or call her lazy. Maybe she needs some more wind down time after school.  Now bring it home with a third surprise: suggest both of you work to change.

Once you’ve come up with a mutually agreeable solution (say, you’ll give a 15-minute warning at 7pm and then she’ll wrap up what she’s doing and start homework by 7:15), write it down. Somehow putting the agreement on paper makes it more real, more solid for all parties.  

Finally, agree what will happen if the agreement is broken on either side (there shouldn’t only be negatives for your child!)  If you yell or call her lazy, you’ll put $5 in a jar which your child gets when her homework is done. If your child hasn’t started homework by 7:15, she forfeits one beloved soccer practice.  Post the agreement on the fridge, stick to it, and then work to encourage cooperation by bringing in Tip #3.....


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.