Cursing Teen

Dear Sharon,

I read your article about the 13-year-old boy that wants a tattoo. I, also have a 13 year old that likes to curse. It is very upsetting to me and I don’t know what to do to make him stop. I think he does it to make me upset, he knows that I don’t like it. What can I do?


Dear Piera,

Unfortunately it is not uncommon for teens and pre-teens to seem almost “eager” to fight with their parents. Cursing is one of many ways such arguments can begin.

I think it is important for all parents to be aware of the underlying issues in their adolescents daily lives before tackling problematic behaviors that can “push Mom’s or Dad’s buttons.”

It can be helpful to remember that hormonal, peer and academic pressures usually increase for 13 year olds. These and other stressors can accumulate over time. As many teens are reluctant to share the details of their days with their Mom and/or Dad they can end up keeping their personal tensions to themselves.

Unfortunately the internal stress of adolescents usually finds it way “to the surface”. As home, even for a moody teen, is often the safest place to show how things are going, upsets can get communicated in a variety of ways, including seeming “eager” to start fights on a regular basis.

Here are some ideas that I have offered to other parents of 13 year olds to help reduce underlying tensions and improve communication:

A teen who is eager to upset their Mom or Dad, can be looking for attention and willing to settle for a fight to have their parents “all to themselves”. If a parent can find a way to spend ample relaxed time with their teen this can substitute positive attention for fights and can help. This could mean watching a show together, going for a walk or hanging out in a teen’s room listening to music.

I suggest that parents try hard to talk less than their teen during this time. Staying quiet and supportive can help an adolescent feel comfortable enough to begin “opening up” about what is “really going on.” Common topics on the minds of most 13 year olds are the details of their classes, how their friends are treating them, how they are feeling about being “popular” or “unpopular”, and even crushes they might have. There are countless more.

If a teen starts talking it is often more important for a parent to listen and empathize rather than make suggestions and offer advice. As many adolescents want to be fully adult as soon as possible they can be quite sensitive to frequent adult opinions. Even if a young person doesn’t talk readily quiet support can go a long way towards letting them know they are loved and not alone; very helpful things to remember at this important age.

If and when a teen manages to push their parents buttons, a common occurrence, it is important for Mom or Dad to stay calm, clear and concise while explaining rules. Parents I know have often needed to take a deep breath, step into another room, address the behavior at another time or get help from another adult to maintain their calm response. Whenever this is done it can make a big difference. Unfortunately an upset parent usually creates an upset teen, something that rarely benefits anyone or reduces problematic behaviors.

Helping teens is often a time and patience consuming task, but I know may parents who have persisted and helped their child sort through a variety of problematic behaviors.