GUEST POST BLOG: “You’re Not My Boss” — Cultivating Respect by Sue Sanders
My daughter Lizzie is fourteen. Therefore, over the previous few years, I’ve heard this phrase more times than I can count. It’s as if she’s got it on autorepeat. My friends also hear this near constant refrain from their children, as well.
Why is this expression so universal? Like “Mom, I’m not a kid anymore” (also the name of my book — which I’d love you to dart out and buy today) and “You’re so embarrassing,” it’s almost as if these phrases are developmental milestones that announce the arrival of puberty.
It’s my theory that the spinning gears of their teen/tween-brains translate this line something like this: “Older people work. They have bosses. Bosses are in charge. Therefore, you aren’t in charge of me, mom. Ha!”
When I ask Lizzie to empty the laundry basket, dishwasher or compost bin, if she’s busy puttering around her room with the door closed, doing mysterious teenage things (which, in my daughter’s case, usually involve updating her fan fiction or Facetiming friends), I’m occasionally on the receiving end this this sentence. Sometimes Lizzie mutters it under her breath, like she hopes I can’t hear it but still can’t stop herself. Other times, it’s a bit louder, as if she’s testing me, with a “Try me, mom. Whatcha gonna do if I talk to you like this?”
Whether Lizzie says it loudly or quietly, it’s not a phrase I’m happy to hear. We have zero tolerance towards rudeness in our house. Just as my my husband and I don’t speak to Lizzie impolitely, we expect the same from her.
“Excuse me,” I say. “That’s rude. I need you to use your normal voice to speak to me.” This gets one of either two responses: (1) A sheepish “I’m sorry.” or (2) Exasperated sigh and a guttural sound similar to “Grrrrr.”
If it’s (1): Everything is fine. I smile. Lizzie tells me she’ll empty the laundry/dishwasher/compost after she’s finished whatever she’s doing. We were successful at averting yet another crisis. (For a few hours, anyway.)
If it’s (2): I calmly send Lizzie to her room. About a decade after we first discovered time-outs to be effective at helping to fine-tune desired behaviors, we rediscovered them — they also work well for young teens. Not that being sent to her room is a terrible punishment. Lizzie probably spends 98% of the time she’s not at school or swim-team there, anyway. But who likes to be told what to do? Especially by a “boss.”
Over the years, I’ve chosen my parenting battles but one that I won’t back away from is the fight against rudeness. I’m honestly shocked by how some of Lizzie’s peers speak to their parents. I’m even more astonished that these parents — kind people and loving parents — seem fine with their children talking to them this way. Kids are learning what’s acceptable and what they can get away with and, like teaching your toddler to say “thank you” after a glass of milk and cookie are plunked down in front of them, parents have to teach their young teens that rudeness isn’t okay.
Back when Lizzie was little, modified time outs worked well for us. “I need you to calm your body and use your words to tell me what you want,” I’d say when she was sobbing wildly after her cranberry and seltzer had accidentally been tossed in the sink.
The fight against rudeness is a long term one that ebbs and wanes. An angelic gap-toothed second grader will morph into a “bratty” third grader, who is just doing what third graders do: becoming more independent and testing parents. And tweens and young teens are even bigger testers. So my husband and I use time-outs. We may get eye rolls and “grr”ing, but we also have a child who is not rude to us. At least to our faces.
* You are the boss of how your child speaks to you. You get to decide what’s acceptable.
* Start early, encouraging your children to “use their words.”
* When preschoolers and older children are rude, give them a chance to realize their mistake and correct it. If they don’t or are consistently rude, try simple, quick time-outs or “toy jail” (removing a favorite toy or iDevice for a predetermined length of time, from a minute or two when young to longer when older.)
* If your child “uses their words” instead of freaking out, tell them you like how they’re using their words. Notice and point out “good” behavior.
* Choose your parenting battles and let small stuff go.
* Be consistent in demanding “politeness.”
* Don’t be embarrassed to call your child out in front of others if he’s rude. Our daughter knows we won’t tolerate rudeness, and we’ll say something about it, even in front of her friends.
* Practice what you preach: speak to your child how you’d like him to speak to you. (When I blow it — and I do — I admit to my daughter I made a mistake and apologize.)
Sue Sanders’s book, Mom, I’m Not a Kid Anymore, was recently published. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, Real Simple, Salon, Brain, Child, Babble, Family Circle, The Oregonian, The Seattle Times, and Parents. She lives with her husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon and is baffled by Twitter. Vist her at http://www.sue-sanders.com.