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Why is my kid such an asshole and what can I do about it?

Why is my kid such an asshole and what can I do about it?

Straight outta the gates with this one! A few weeks ago I put a call out on Facebook for any burning questions that our readers needed answering. And the very first question that popped into our inbox was this one: “Why is my kid such an asshole?” Hmmm.

Writes a fellow mum:

“She’s 12 and the most selfish little so and so (I don’t want to say starts with c, but…) you’ve ever met. She doesn’t care one bit about the rest of the family – at all. Of course, she’s lovely to everyone else, so even my friends think it’s probably meeee not heeeeer. That drives me more crazy even than her haughty dismissal of every word I utter. I’m not even going to go into the ‘she used to be so nice and then she hit puberty thing’ because yada, yada, yada. Puberty or not, I can’t live with the nastiness.

“So, please help me, Mumlyfe. Why is my kid such an asshole and what can I do about her?”

Well, dear Mum, we hear you! You’ll feel comforted to know that the “why is my kid such an asshole” question was submitted in various forms no less than three times out of a total of 10 questions we received. So, yes, you are not alone.

Now, before we go on, it’s really important to remember that your kid is not actually an asshole. They’re just acting like one. The distinction is super necessary. Deep down your child is the same bundle of sweet, loving fluff they always were, I promise.

They wake up like that

But many kids hit puberty and turn into utter jerks overnight. To be honest, some kids acted like complete dicks even before that.

There are many reasons for this, most of them hormone-driven. Puberty really is the ‘asshole phase’ and even the kindest, quietest, most respectful kids can hit this stage and have a complete system meltdown.

If yours hasn’t or didn’t, that’s a pat on the back for them (no, not you, sorry). The fact is, most tweens and teens hit puberty hard and if yours happens to not be one of them, it’s basically the equivalent a baby sleeping through the night at four weeks old: sheer luck. Probably not anything you did or didn’t do. Just hormones doing what hormones do.

Of course, there’s a lot going on besides hormones during puberty.

“Growing up demands that our children let go of something,” says parenting expert Michelle Mitchell, author of the bestselling online program A Tween’s Guide to Puberty. “If you think about it, childhood is pulled from them inch by inch without their consent. They have no control over the arrival of puberty, or the mood swing they start to experience… Understandably, that might bring an element of grief that we can wisely meet with compassion.”

Compassion really does help to take the edge off assholery behaviour a bit. They’re not being obnoxious at us, they’re just trying to figure it out and failing miserably.

We don’t get the best of them

Another helpful reminder is that parents rarely get the best of their kids during the puberty years. They save all their best assholery for home.

I know that’s odd comfort, but hear me out.

I find it extremely comforting to know that the horror child at home is not the one present at school or elsewhere. They do know how to be polite, kind and selfless, just not at home. Not for now.

So next time someone says, “I love your kid, they are so lovely and nice”, try not to launch into your usual harrumph where you list their diabolical behaviour at home. Instead, smile and say thanks. You’re doing a really excellent job, Mum.

The fact is, as much as they express the opposite, home is a safe place for our kids. They get to let it all hang out. Families are also a weird dynamic during the tween and teen years. We’re basically standing in their way of being themselves. A lot of the time, we’re a barrier to their independence and freedom, a hated road block.

Which is why…

The feeling is most likely mutual

“Tweens and teens often think we are the ones turning into assholes! I know that sounds hilarious but so often tweens and teens wonder why they are suddenly always in trouble,” says Michelle.

She recalls that while writing her next book for parents of tweens, having a conversation with her now 24-year-old son. He particularly remembered life as an 11-year-old when puberty hit him hard.

Says Michelle, “He gorgeously recalls his growing-up experience saying, ‘I woke up one morning feeling that you didn’t understand me at all. I couldn’t work out why YOU had changed overnight. I thought something weird had happened to you.”

Her son says that looking back the memory makes him laugh, but that’s just how he felt at the time.

Chances are, our own kids are wondering why their parents turned into assholes overnight, too. 

So, how can we help each other figure things out and calm the farm?

Teens are hard work

Puberty is not an excuse for poor behaviour

Firstly, it’s important to remind both yourself and your kid that puberty is not an excuse for poor behaviour. Sure, they’re going to act out and say stupid stuff and generally find it hard to control their emotions… BUT. But there is always room for a deep breath in the moment or a heartfelt apology later. 

It’s natural that kids will push boundaries, test limits and act out, but there are no real excuses for nasty, anti-social type behaviour. That’s why, no matter what’s going on, we need to step up and insist on decency from our kids. How else are they going to learn that acting like a complete pork chop is not the way to get what you want in life?

Sure, being able to say to yourself “their frontal lobe isn’t yet fully developed, that’s why my kid is such an asshole” is comforting, it’s not particularly helpful to your kid. They still need to get along in the world.

Yes, they will push back when we set those boundaries. And oh yes, they will most likely be angry and hurtful towards us. But yes, we have to set them anyway.

How I approach things

First thing first: pick your moment. That moment is probably not going to be while your kid is displaying assholery behaviour. Instead, I wait for the storm to pass and then gently approach.

I like to take a ‘we’re in this together’ approach. By that I mean, I start by saying something like, “I’m really sad when we don’t get along. I want us to work on this together.”

Then I lay down the law. I want my kids to know that treating others unkindly is not okay. Of course, sometimes I’ve been a right dick to them because I’ve reached boiling point and I just react. In which case, I start our chat by apologising. “I shouldn’t have said that to you and I’m really sorry.”

After that:

  • I’m clear about the behaviour we expect – “In this house, we treat each other with respect and empathy.”
  • Make it even clearer the behaviour we will not accept – “I won’t put up with you speaking in a rude tone or swearing at either me or your siblings.”
  • I try to show that I understand that this is challenging for the kids – “I do understand that you’re tired and people can be annoying, I feel like that sometimes, too. But treating people meanly won’t make you feel better and it will definitely make you feel worse.”
  • We have firm consequences in place for unacceptable behaviour – “When you speak in a rude tone or swear, you’ll need to hand your phone over for Y period of time, no excuses.”
  • I’m always clear about why this matter to me – “It makes me feel unvalued and hurt when you speak like that. I know you’re a good person and I’d like to see that side of you at home. I’m taking your phone as a reminder of how important it is that you work on this.”

Or whatever it may be at your place.

Hold the rules with love and compassion

Of course, it’s extremely challenging to stay calm in the middle of a cyclone, but that is exactly what parenting through puberty demands of us.

Our tweens and teens will whirl around us with zero care for others, and we have to gently hold them accountable. That’s what love is.

“Time has proven that you love your child. They have heard you bragging about how cute and adorable they are. They have seen you patiently tie their shoelaces and pack their school lunch,” says Michelle. “However, they need to discover that your love will hold strong as they grow. They need to know that your love will grow with them and for them as they enter a new season of their lives.”

So when your child tells you that if you really loved them, you’d let them do X, you say, “I really love you, that’s why I’m saying no.”

Or when your kid tells you they hate you, you say, “Fortunately, I love you enough for both of us.”

And when they make you want to walk out the front door and never return, you say to yourself, “I will love them through this.”

You might occasionally tell your kid the same thing: I will love you through this.

Try not to take it personally

The main thing to remember during this one-sided love fest that you will be holding is that it’s not personal. The very same thing that irritates us during this stage is actually a beacon as well: it’s not about you, it’s all about them.

So when the cyclone is spinning, try to stay in the moment. Don’t tally up all of the ways your child has been hurtful up until this moment. Also don’t fret about how they’re ever going to get along in life when your kid is such an asshole. They won’t be this way forever and they’ve already forgotten whatever they said or did before.

Parent the moment and try to parent the child, not their behaviour. You know deep-down that your beautiful kid is in there somewhere. If you’ve lost sight of who they are underneath all that teen, then spend an afternoon watching old videos or reminiscing.

So, to the mums who wrote to us about their beloved asshole kids, know that they eventually they do grow through it. I promise you won’t be wondering why your kid is such an asshole forever! Just as they seem to wake up like that, one day they unexpectedly take a shower and they wash the teen right off them. It’s at that point you get to congratulate yourself on surviving the asshole years. With a bit of luck you’ll even get to laugh about them together.

Feature image by cottonbro; boy with painted nails by Nastiz; girl in black by Rachel Claire