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The Blessing a B Minus – The Blessing of a Bad Attitude

I remember the first time my younger daughter said, “I hate you!”  While naturally it hurt my feelings, the fact that my three-year-old looked adorable stomping her foot and scrunching her face helped ease my pain.  But as author Wendy Mogel points out, when an awkward, gangly adolescent mouths off, it’s hard to remember she also has a lot to learn.

In her chapter “The Blessing of a Bad Attitude,” Mogel argues that today’s parents face the following dilemma:  “How do we respect our teenagers’ need to separate from us while fulfilling our parental duty to teach them respect for others?”  The suggestion Mogel offers involves developing a minimum standard for polite behavior in your home.  Everyone’s rules will vary, depending upon your comfort level.  For example, maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I don’t want kids calling me by my first name.

These are some of the behaviors Mogel considered rude when her daughters were teens:

  •    * Curses directly at you or other family members
  •    * Insults you in front of others
  •    * Doesn’t answer other people’s direct questions
  •    * Slams doors frequently
  •    * Refuses to make polite small talk with parent’s friends


Here’s a list of behaviors that are also rude but Mogel chose to ignore:

  •     * Sulking
  •     * Grousing before chores, homework, required tasks
  •     * Eyeball rolling
  •     * Getting mad at you for irrational reasons
  •     * Giving you the “scram eyes” when a friend is over


“The Blessing of a Bad Attitude” argues creating a list like this well help you when your child calls you strict and your parents say you’re too lenient.  Remember, “You can eat, live, buy, and do whatever you please.  Teenagers have very few choices, even when they have lots of privileges.  They’re prisoners in a house they didn’t pick, in a town they didn’t pick, with parents they didn’t pick.  Because their perception of time is so different from ours, they imagine they’ll be enslaved forever.”

The important thing, according to Mogel, is that you don’t let battles escalate.  You need to stay focused on enforcing the rule at hand.  She suggests you start or end your response with one of these words:

  •     * Nevertheless…
  •     * Regardless…
  •     * That is not the issue.
  •     * My decision is final.
  •     * I’ve thought about it and the answer is no.
  •     * I’m not going to change my mind about this.

When I was teaching middle school, parents would always have a mixed reaction after they found out that their moody adolescent wasn’t acting out in the classroom.  On one hand, they were relieved; on the other hand, they were concerned because their kid seemed to be nice to everyone but them.  I would explain to parents that it takes enormous energy for children to hold it together all day at school; therefore, it’s not that unusual for things to fall apart once they are home, in an environment where people love them no matter what they do.

Mogel argues, “It is critical for you not to get lost in the fear that your teen’s rudeness is a permanent moral flaw.  If you do, you will not have the presence of mind to remain tolerant and calm.”  My mom has always said that my senior year of high school I was “too mean to be alive.”  Luckily, deep down, my mom knew there was more to me than that.Of course, now that I’m a parent, it pains me to know that I acted that way, but the fact that I will have two teenage girls in my house at one time seems to vindicate my mother.

Victoria Winterhalter

Victoria Winterhalter

Victoria Winterhalter is a mother, teacher, reader, and writer on the education and environment beats for RFM. She has been with RFM since its founding in 2009 and has contributed photos and written numerous articles on education, parenting, and family travel.

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