One of the biggest challenges providers (and parents) experience with teens is how to respond to disrespectful behavior. It’s only natural to strike back by setting a limit and/or using an authoritative tone. However, when teens express hostility and “disrespect”, it’s often an over-response to a misinterpretation. By reacting in kind, we inadvertently confirm the teens perception that we are opposing them, and that the initial disrespectful behavior was warranted. How do we break this cycle?
Consider responding with kindness. Kindness begets kindness. Kindness models respect. Kindness de-escalates mood intensity. Kindness maintains your self-respect.
By no means does this mean that you just let disrespectful behavior go – of course it needs to be addressed, just not in the moment. Wait until things settle down and then gently come back to the interaction and state your concerns about the disrespectful behavior. Invite an open and collaborative discussion about how to interact more respectfully in the future.
To do this effectively, you need to be aware of your urges to react before you respond! Slow down your responses, calm yourself down with soothing breathing (elongating your exhale) and notice your urges without acting on them. This is a skill that is enhanced with regular meditation practice. Consider taking a few minutes a day to strengthen your ability to do it.
There’s an added bonus . . . the benefits of kindness extend to the person being kind. Research shows that acting in a kind manner decreases social anxiety, increases social standing, decreases blood pressureand increases overall well-being.
Why not give it a try? Unkind behavior abounds in our culture. Today’s youth are relying on us to establish the tone for their generation.
Britt Rathbone, LCSW-C
Rowland, L., Kindness – society’s golden chain?, The Psychologist, February 2018
Yang, Y., Zhao, H., Aidi, M., Kou, Y., Three good deeds and three blessings: The kindness and gratitude interventions with Chinese prisoners, Crim Behav Ment Health. 2018;28:433–441