Three reasons your kid might be treating you disrespectfully

Written by Monica Swanson
Published on September 02, 2022

I receive some version of this email or message often…

Dear Monica…

My son is so rude to me…

My daughter is disrespectful…

My kids don’t listen…

My teenager hardly talks to me…

Please help.  

If any of these complaints resonate with you, you’re not alone. It’s a terrible feeling to be disrespected by the kids you love and — let’s face it — lay your life down for every single day. And it’s even worse when you can’t figure out why. The common follow-up thought is: “Is there any hope for improvement?” I mean, if they are giving the back-talk, eye-rolls, and silent treatment at seven, or eleven, what in the world will it be like at sixteen? (Right?!)

We want to raise our kids to honor us for many reasons. Yes, it makes our life easier.  But even more, I hope my kids will grow up to be respectful to others and especially to honor God.  

Billy Graham said, “A child who is allowed to be disrespectful to his parents will not have true respect for anyone.”

Of course every situation is unique. Without knowing the families involved, I can’t give specific feedback but I have done my best to offer some general principles to consider. After replying individually to a lot of parents on this topic, I decided it might be time to just put a few thoughts in one place. So here I am. I hope these help. After many years of experience + research, I have found some common reasons kids treat parents disrespectfully, and a few helpful ways to turn it around…

Keep in mind, I’ve got a twelve year-old in the house, so as much as I’m writing this in response to those “Dear Monica,” emails, I’m also writing it for…well, dear Monica.

3 Reasons your kid might be treating you disrespectfully {And how you might respond!}

1. They’re figuring out how to do the natural and healthy thing of becoming a grown-up (but in a not-so healthy way).

I want to start with this one because I like to assume the best in our kids. And no doubt, there comes an age/stage (often the tweens) when kids begin to pull away from their parents and feel the urge to be more independent. Some boys start to gravitate towards dad more than mom. Boys and girls both may have a tendency to start depending on friends more as they near the teenage years.  

This is the beginning of the long, slow march to independence. (Pause to wipe some tears. It’s ok.) And oftentimes, kids don’t handle it very well. The good news is, YOU CAN.

If you’ve read any parenting books (or remember being in middle school, gulp…) this is not new information to you. It’s awkward and hard to be the kid in this situation, and it’s certainly not fun to be on the parenting side of it. Your heart may break a little. Your sweet angel who a month (or 12) ago wanted to be by your side allofthedangtime is suddenly Mr. or Ms. Independent.  Ouch.

In my home recently: Levi walks in from golfing with his dad, and as I reach out to give him the mom-hug he has received since he was a toddler, he instead nods and passes me, saying, “I’m starved, what’s for dinner?”  


Was that rude? 


But, before I’m offended, I ask myself: What was really going on?  

Levi just returned from some guy-time with his dad. Whether he golfed well or not, he and dad have had some male bonding time, and he probably felt pretty grown up. Also: he’s hungry. Hangry even. So, when Mom offers a warm-fuzzy greeting, it annoys him.  He’d like to be treated like the man he (feels like he) is becoming.

In that moment, I can call him out (and often I do, because I do not want that to become normal). But it might be more wise to extend a little grace and make a joke or just let it go.  But importantly, I make a mental note. Next time he walks in from golfing, I might try to imagine a teenager walking in and greet him accordingly: With a smile. A nod. And a sandwich if possible.

I’m not suggesting we accept rude behavior, but that we consider what is behind it. In these situations, after he’s eaten and I’ve gotten over any offended feelings, I might pull him aside and say, “Hey buddy.  When you walked in today, you were pretty rude to me. I think you know I was trying to be nice, and no matter how you felt, you can do better than that. Got it?”

Hopefully he will agree and ask for forgiveness. If his rudeness warranted a consequence, I’ll let him know that future rudeness will be met with extra chores or something else unpleasant. But either way, I choose to let him know that his rudeness is unacceptable, while still giving grace for a hangry tween who might have just had a rough golf game.

Bottom line: If your kid is being disrespectful, it might be because they are growing in independence. You, the mature parent, can try to turn it around by: First, talking to them about how they act (reminding them what respect looks like and the consequences for disrespect) and second, adjusting your own parenting approach to honor their natural and healthy desire to be more grown up. 

2. They’re trying to be cool. (And cool kids are rude to their parents, right?)

What!? Unfortunately, this is common. Sometimes our kids see other kids treat their parents poorly and get the idea that it is normal.  And even cool. 

If your child is rude to you (especially in public) it may be because they’re trying to show off or experiment with a jerky attitude. If so, it’s time for you to have a good chat with your child. 

We have to talk about influence. If the kids your son or daughter hangs out with treat their parents or other authority disrespectfully then it’s time to sit down with your kids and talk about friendships. Your kids need help knowing how to choose good friends and sometimes they need you to step in and redirect them in their friendships. Your kids can have many friends but a wise parent will make some hard calls on friendships that are leading your kids down a bad path. Whether their friends are treating others poorly, compromising their values, or…speaking rudely to their parents (among a laundry list of other things) our kids should realize the danger in that friendship. Proverbs says: “He who walks with the wise will become wise but a companion of fools will suffer harm.”  King Solomon was spot-on. 

Help your child find friends who have good values. Friends who love God. Friends who honor their parents. And prepare yourself: Your child is likely to push back and argue that they are NOT being influenced by their friends, but deep deep down (maybe so deep they won’t figure it out for a few years) they know the truth and they might even feel relieved if you set boundaries on those friendships. If you’ve taught them what is right then wrong behavior will not sit well with them.

Bottom line: If your kid is being disrespectful and you think it is in an attempt to be cool, talk to them about friendships and make sure they know the real definition of cool. Set any limits or boundaries on friendships that are getting them into trouble and help them make a plan to surround themselves with people who will be a good influence on them. Then, talk to them about how they treat you, practice with some role playing if you can (I do that with Levi!) and make it clear how he or she will speak to you and respond to you in the future.

3. You’ve tried too hard to be their friend.

Sometimes, in an effort to be likable as a parent, we blur the lines between friend and parent…and the end result is not what we had hoped for. My son Luke, eighteen, has told me that when he has seen his friends’ moms trying to be their buddy, it totally backfires. “Instead of appreciating them, the kids usually walk all over their mom and do not respect her. In the end, they don’t even have a good relationship,” Luke said. Then he added, “There are many times that you have set boundaries for me that I didn’t like in the moment, but it actually made me respect you. I think it’s important that parents try to be parents first.”

Aww, such wisdom. 

Luke is right. If we do not raise a standard of respect for our kids, they are likely to go as far in the other direction as we let them. Our kids are looking to us for direction. They feel the most safe and secure when we set clear expectations for how they ought to treat us. Disrespect should not be accepted. 

As we already noted, every situation is different and every child unique.  Levi has a much more casual, jokester tone with his parents than his older brothers did. (Youngest children often do!) So we have gotten used to him cracking jokes a lot, and sometimes that casual tone can cross a line into disrespect. So I try to encourage his sense of humor, while making it clear that he should speak to his parents (and all elders/people in authority) with an extra dose of respect. 

Bottom line: If your kid is being disrespectful to you and you realize you have not set a clear expectation for the right way to treat you, it’s time to reevaluate. Make sure you and your child know Ephesian 6:1-3 and make it clear that the standard is honor. You have the rest of your life to grow in friendship with them!

We need to keep in mind that our kids have a sin nature (kind of like, ahem, their parents) and ultimately, their behavior will be evidence of what is going on in their heart. So, my best advice to parents is to keep growing in relationship with your kids and keep pointing them to their need for God’s love and forgiveness.  While we can help them change their behavior, only God can change their heart. 

Consider a few extra resources:

Live perfectly imperfect

Get daily emails with practical and spiritual advice geared towards helping you set aside perfect and grow into the parent you want to be every day.

Monica Swanson

Monica and her husband Dave raise boys and tropical fruit on the North Shore of Oahu.  Monica has homeschooled their four sons (two who are currently in Southern California, one in college, one a recent college grad!)  Monica is the author of Raising Amazing: Bringing up Kids Who Love God, Like their Family, and Do the Dishes without Being Asked (released this week!) as well as  Boy Mom: What Your Son Needs Most from You, and host of the Monica Swanson Podcast. Monica has been blogging for over 12 years and has encouraged over 10 million visitors to her website with articles on parenting and family, healthy living, and (mostly) healthy recipes. The Swanson boys are all surfers, (Luke, who is 19, surfs professionally) which keeps Monica on her knees. Monica loves good coffee, running trails with her husband and dog, Thor, the Word of God, and connecting with women all over the world through the crazy gift of the internet.

Read more about Monica

You may also like…

Privacy Preference Center