When Tweens Back Talk

change and grow

The tween years can prove eerily similar to the terrible two’s.  Suddenly your mild mannered child has a mind of her own and she’s not afraid to use it.  The big difference here is that instead of digging in her heels and screaming, “NO!” she has probably learned the art of sarcasm.

As frustrating and disrespectful as backtalk is, it’s actually your tween’s way of asserting herself.

Here’s the thing about the tween brain:  The prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that helps you think ahead and adjust your behavior based on potential consequences – is still developing.

In short, tweens don’t think things through.  They are fairly impulsive, and driven by emotion.  They are also learning to advocate for themselves.  They might not be doing it in a way that pleases family members, but often asserting their independence is the end goal.

So what’s a mom to do when the backtalk begins?

Avoid overreacting:

Tweens can say some hurtful things when they get angry.  They yell, they roll their eyes, and they try to get a reaction.  When parents overreact to backtalk, it makes the behavior appear powerful. 

Between raging hormones, shifting friendships, and internalized emotions, the tween years can be difficult.  Often, tweens transfer their feelings to their parents in the form of backtalk and sarcasm.  Try to remain calm and, whatever you do, don’t take it personally.

Provide guidance:

Yes, tweens think they know just about everything.  But you know better.  In a calm moment, provide some much needed guidance about decision-making and impulse control.  Share some of your own stories.  Talk about cause and effect, particularly with regard to personal relationships.

Tweens often feel misunderstood.  Provide some empathy and try to connect with your tween during the quiet moments.  A strong bond will go a long way toward helping your tween cope during the more turbulent moments.

Define limits:

When kids are young, they hear about the house rules on a daily basis.  But as they grow, parents assume that these expectations are internalized.  The truth is that the expectations shift over time.  The rules change.  Be specific in your expectations and make sure your tween understands where you draw the line.

Talk it out:

To yell it out, hand out consequences, and then never mention it again is to miss an important teachable moment.  Kids might learn a few things from consequences, but they don’t necessarily understand how they ended up there. 

Once you and your tween are calm, take some time to review what happened.  Ask questions.  Try to find the source of your tween’s anger, and be specific about what upset you during the exchange.  Help your tween learn from experience.

Conduct a self-assessment:


Are you quick to anger?  Do you rely on sarcasm?  Do you take your frustration out on others?  It’s no big secret that our children tend to learn from our actions.  Take some time to think about how you relate when frustrated.  Is there room for change?  Acknowledge that and talk about it with your tween.  Work on it together.

Choose your battles:

Tweens are influenced by peers, media, music, and even literature.  If you battle every little behavior that annoys you, you will fight with your tween non-stop.  Take some time to think about the behaviors that are truly unacceptable and start there.  Perhaps a few eye rolls can go unnoticed if the swearing stops. 

The fact is that your tween will test the limits as she finds her place in learns to assert herself.  Choose your battles carefully so that you can enjoy the happier moments with your tween.

Does your tween talk back?  How do you confront negative behaviors?

Image via Katie Hurley


What do you think?

When Tweens Back Talk

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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  1. Valerie says:

    This makes me feel like such a good mom this is how i do mommy 🙂 i do need to work on gettin angry in general cause she prolly picks up on it from me, but i try to keep good music and stuff going she only watches nick jr and disney jr shes a pretty good kid 🙂

  2. Grace says:

    my nephew who lives with me is a tween and drives me crazy, much more attitude than my 5, 3, or 8 month olds


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