The Teen Grunt: Getting teens and preteens to speak politely

I was at a secondary school yesterday and saw a sign at their student services window saying "Please remember to say please and thank you". Brilliant.  This school had noticed a problem and instituted a brief, respectful and visual reminder, right at the point where the students needed it.

Many of our teens frequently speak rudely, forget their manners and "grunt" in response to questions.  This pushes our buttons because we worry that are teens are turning into rude and disrespectful people, we worry that we aren't parenting well and we just feel hurt.

When a teen forgets to speak politely we need to do two things:

1. Stay relaxed and NOT take it personally.  

This is a skill gap, not a personality flaw. Teen brains are still growing.  Manners are an easy thing to forget when you are 15.

2.  Make a mental note that further training is required.

Hearing a teenager speak or act rudely is a cue for adults that we need to follow this up and do more training.  Further training options include:

a) Conversations:  

"Last night when I especially made that dessert for you and brought it in, you didn't say thanks or look at me.  I felt a bit hurt about that, what was going on then?"

"I notice that you sometimes forget to say please when you ask me for things.  What's happening here do you think?" 

b) Making your manners request very specific:

Forget nagging teens about being "polite" or "respectful".  This is far too general.  Instead, be very specific.

When I ask you about your day, I would like you to either tell me something about it or say, "do you mind if we talk about it another time please Dad".  It's up to you, but I need you to choose one of those options rather than grunting. 

When you first see me after coming home from school or work, please say, "Hi Mum" before you say anything else or ask me any questions.

When I drop you off somewhere, before you get out the car, you need to say goodbye before you get out the door

c) Put low key (visual if possible) reminders in place PRIOR to the situation

Write a couple of "Manners for our house/classroom" rules up and put them somewhere teens see them (preferably somewhere they see them when they need them).

Send a text, email or Facebook message reminder every now and then about what you want

Remind teens at the beginning or before a key situation (today you are going to probably want to speak to me about this topic, just a reminder about what I spoke about re: manners yesterday) 

3. Remember that these further training options will not be welcomed by the teen, they will be irritated, hurt, embarrassed and annoyed by them.  Do them anyway - cheerfully, calmly and sensitively (avoid any humiliation).

Play the long game.  But don't give up.  Teens with manners are far more well liked by other adults, which is very important for their social acceptance and general well being.

If you would like more help in managing teen or pre teen behaviour, or want support and counselling for your teen, click here on counselling services.