Dealing with pre-teen backtalk: From a dad's perspective

My wife and I knew these days would come. Our son has turned twelve. That means he is now less than a year away from turning into a teenager. As teachers, we have not only heard of these creatures; we see them daily. We knew all along to expect backtalk to begin; we just did not expect it to begin so soon.

Beginning signs of adolescence

I had a chance very recently to talk to my son briefly about the physical changes that his body will undergo within the next few years. He is growing tall fast, and his strength is increasing. These are some of the signs of beginning adolescence. My wife and I will discuss more physical changes with him in detail as each one begins. For now, we have focused on our son's emotional changes such as his attitude. He has begun to question our authority to a small extent. He knows that we mean what we say, but he now wants to know why when we tell him something. That is a fair question, and we explain why - after he obeys.

We hear it from teens daily.

My wife and I both teach high school, and we have both taught junior high. We have seen teens for 20 years, so we can accurately proclaim that teens have a nature of questioning authority. I can handle their questioning, but I have a problem when they talk back to me. For example, I will tell a student to keep his head up and eyes open during class; he might shout out that he is awake so I should leave him alone. I have a very supportive administration and parents, so if I have to refer a student or call his or her parents, I know the student will receive proper correction. This is only a mild example of backtalk; more severe examples occur but less frequently.

Testing his limits

My son has not talked back to his teachers, but he has to us. For example, we will tell him to clear off his dinner place when finished. He might put his dirty dishes on the counter or another table instead of in the sink or dishwasher. He knows full well what we want him to do. When we tell him to finish the task, he might say, "I did what you told me. You didn't say to put them in the sink." That type comment gets him nowhere fast. In another instance, we tell him to turn off the computer and get ready for bed. He might say that we let stay up longer last night so why not tonight? We do not go for that type of comment either.

How we handle our son's backtalk

When our son talks back, we handle it immediately. First, we make him obey. A finger snap and a hard look will normally do the trick. He knows then to obey without complaint; any further resistance results in loss of computer or other electronics (his favorites) for a significant time. We do our best not to get mad and yell at him. We will let the situation calm down and then explain what he said and why it was wrong. He needs to obey and show us the respect as his parents. I have often had him recite the Fifth Commandment: "Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." Our son loves the Bible and wants to follow God's Word. This usually gets him back onto the track of obedience.

Raising our son into a responsible adult is a very tough job, but we welcome it. Our parents raised all of their children to respect them and all in authority over us. We all turned out great. My wife and I want the same for our son as he becomes an adult. We have to teach him that respect now so he will carry it into adulthood.


Holy Bible, Exodus 20:12, King James Version

More from this contributor:

No, Why, and Mine -- Our Toddler's Three Favorite Words (and How We Handled Them)

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Talking to Our Son About Smoking