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Why Is My Teenager so Mean to Me? Part 1: When to Seek Help

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

If you have a teenager, you may at times wonder why they are—to put it simply—so mean to you. They might insult you either alone or in front of others, with snide or sarcastic comments on your appearance, personality, parenting, or any other aspect of your life. Their verbal aggression could include cursing and harassment. They might even get physical, at times; they may attempt to hit you, throw things, or damage your property. You feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells: every interaction ends up with them upset. Attempts at being nice to them ultimately end with them pushing you away, yelling “Leave me alone” or “Don’t talk to me” or “I hate you.” It seems like you’re crying, or screaming back at them, practically all week.

Suffice it to say, you don’t know what to do about this situation.

You may wonder how your teen developed such an attitude. You don’t remember raising your teen to be this…rude. That’s understandable. In fact, we’ll bet that no parent having conflict issues with their teen is happy about what’s going on.

It Hurts When Our Children Hurt Us

First, we want to give you some empathy. It hurts when your teen is mean. Yes, we know you’re already an adult and that parents are supposed to be the “strong” ones in the relationship.

But remember that first time your teen was a toddler? They were discovering the strength of their own arm, and they had a gleeful smile on when they whacked you. That first time, it didn’t hurt. It was just a bit of a shock. But the more it happened, the more you got insulted. Why is my child hitting me? Don’t they know I do nothing but give, give, give to them all day long? What am I doing wrong?

If you sought parenting coaching at the time (or even did light research online), you might have learned that hitting is a normal toddler phase, and it usually goes away on its own. Yet that logic only somewhat mitigated the emotional distress you felt every time they hit you (or yelled “I don’t like you, Mommy!”).

Because it hurts us when our children hurt us. No matter if they’re three, 13, or 30.

Increased Conflict During Adolescence is Normal

We’re going to begin tackling this issue by sharing that a certain amount of conflict with parents is a normal part of teen development.  Puberty causes dramatic changes in a teen’s brain. Because the prefrontal cortex (the decision-making part of the brain that considers the consequences of actions) is still developing, teenagers may be more impulsive and emotional from the age of 12 through young adulthood. Experimentation with risk-taking is common, as is questioning all authority figures—including parents.

During adolescence, teens also start undergoing separation and individuation. They become more independent, drawn to creating their own identity and exploring the world on their own. At the same time, though, this means they become less attached to their parents. This inevitably leads to increased conflicts with said parents.

When Teen Conflicts are a Serious Problem

However, sometimes a teen’s issues aren’t just a part of normal adolescence. At times, a difficult relationship with your teen indicates that there’s a deeper problem going on.

So how do you know if your teen’s situation is normal or if it’s not?

First, aggressive behavior is always something to be taken seriously.

Conflict with parents is part of typical adolescent development, but verbal and physical aggression, or running away, is not. This means that if your teen is aggressively rude to you on a consistent basis, or has no qualms about attacking you physically, you need to get help – both for your teen and yourself.

When teenagers are disrespectful to their parents in these ways, it could be a sign that they have deeper emotional issues that are not being addressed. Sometimes, they aren’t receiving enough attention at home. A chronically invalidating environment can also lead to behavioral issues.

Other times, it’s a mental health issue at play. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), and even ADHD can lead to temper outbursts, behavioral issues, extreme conflict, and rocky relationships with parents.

In this series, we’ll discuss these issues in more depth and explore what treatment options are available for teens who have chronically contentious relationships with their parents. Keep reading:

Part 2: Causes of Adolescent Behavioral Issues

Part 3: Mental Health Issues

Part 4: Treatment for Teens

Part 5: Treatment for Parents

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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