Spoiled Brat Behavior Unmasked: Unveiling Real-Life Scenarios and How to Address Them

conflict management emotional intelligence negative emotions paradigms triggers what to say Aug 28, 2023
A digital graphic of a mother speaking to a spoiled brat daughter.d talk.

We all get irritated from time to time, and our teenagers are no exception. In fact, teens in particular can resort to eye rolls and sarcasm as their main currency. They speak to us using rude tones of voice. They mumble dismissively under their breath. 

The trouble is, this leaves us feeling like our teenager is a spoiled brat. They are rude to us, but we are left guessing about what exactly we have done to annoy them. 

Their passive-aggressive communication style doesn’t serve anyone: Our teen doesn’t get his or her needs met, and we are left collecting more and more evidence that our teen is a disrespectful, entitled, spoiled brat.  We don't have enough information to problem-solve, and most importantly, we don’t know what they need to feel better.

Passive-aggressive eye rolls, sarcasm, and snarkiness are simply not productive for anyone.

So let’s unpack this behavior, consider an example of a teen disrespecting parents, and give you a script for dealing with it. 


First Things First:

It is important to remember that your teenager is most likely not a spoiled brat. Most kids want to do the right thing. They don’t want to be annoyed by you any more than you want to be annoyed by them. 

So rather than thinking of your teenager as a spoiled brat, think of this behavior as an opportunity to teach your teenager an important skill: Straightforward communication around needs. 

Let’s start with an example of disrespecting parents: Imagine that your teenage son rolls his eyes when you ask him to clean his room, which pushes your buttons, so you are rude right back.

You might say something like, “You are such a spoiled brat! I’m sick of this! Get into your room, and clean it right now!” 

The cycle escalates until your son is left sitting in his room wallowing in self-righteous victimhood with new evidence that you are, in fact, the enemy. Likely, your teen is thinking, “Why does my parent have to be so controlling? And why do they care so much about MY room? I don’t tell them to clean their room.” 

But what if there’s a better way to address the times when your teenager is disrespectful?

What if, instead, we taught our teenagers to wrap words around the emotions they are feeling and identify what they need?

Teaching our teenagers to calmly and politely use words to express their frustrations and identify their needs is one of our most important jobs as parents. When our teens learn how to do this, they can resolve conflict, draw boundaries kindly but assertively, and get their needs met in future relationships.

So how does it work? Let's take a look at the five-sentence formula, and then let's put it to work with an example of a teen disrespecting parents. 


Sentence 1: Name the offending behavior you just witnessed. 

Name the rude tone of voice, the eye roll, or the snarky response. This way, you can wrap words around the passive-aggressive behavior and put it out in the open, which is where it needs to be. When you name the behavior, the irritation moves from being an undercurrent of frustration to becoming something real and tangible that you and your teenager can address.


Sentence 2: Explain that you are left guessing what this rude behavior means.

Clear communication will help to process deeper-rooted problems. 


Sentence 3: Express your desire to help. 

Remind your teenager that you are on their side and want to be a supportive ally.


Sentence 4: Assert and commit to enforcing your boundary.

Assert your boundary by naming the behavior you expect from your teenager (like speaking politely), and letting them know that being passive-aggressive isn’t okay or productive. Commit to enforcing your boundaries by letting your teenager know you intend to make sure you get your needs met in the situation. (And to be fair, sometimes this “sentence” is two or three sentences long.)


Sentence 5: Ask your teenager to take a few minutes to identify what they need.

Taking a few minutes to identify wants and needs is important for self-regulation. Having a clear idea or even a generalized idea about what you want will help create solutions toward those goals.


The Bigger Picture:

So when you put it all together, what does it sound like? Here is an example of a teen disrespecting parents, and the response you can give by using this five-sentence script: 

Imagine that you are driving your teenager to their friend’s house. The minute your teen gets in the car, he starts giving you attitude. He sighs when he asks you questions, and his tone is dismissive. So, you say:

  • Sentence 1: “You have been rolling your eyes and being dismissive since we got in the car, so I can tell you are irritated.” (You just named the behavior.)
  • Sentence 2: “The trouble is, I have no idea why you are being rude to me.” (You are communicating that you are left guessing and probably won’t guess right.)
  • Sentence 3: “I would be happy to have a conversation with you about what you need so you can feel better about your relationship with me.” (You just put yourself in the role of a supportive ally.)
  • Sentence 4: “It’s fine to be irritated with me, but I need you to express yourself politely, not with eye rolls, loud sighs, and dismissiveness. If you continue to be rude and dismissive, I am going to turn around and go home because I don’t want to be in the habit of doing favors and giving car rides to people who are rude to me during the process.” (You committed to enforcing your boundary—and a great boundary at that: making sure your teen knows that there are expectations around their behavior and that car rides are a privilege and not a right.)
  • Sentence 5: “Can you take a moment to think about what you need to feel better, and then let me know?" (You asked your teen to identify what they need, which is the essence of emotional intelligence.)

Tolerating rude behavior is a drag, and it’s one of those unfortunate realities of parenting. However, remember that your teenager isn’t a spoiled brat–they are young and still learning skills. Use rude behavior as an opportunity to model and teach really great communication and conflict-resolution skills. In doing so, you will raise kids who are more emotionally intelligent and much less reactive down the line.


The Sacred Script:

If you use this script often, you will set the paradigm for how your teenagers engage in other relationships in their lives. Confronting their behavior head-on also allows you to draw boundaries around how they treat you—boundaries that your teens will be more likely to replicate later in life when they are engaged in a relationship with someone who isn't treating them well.

If you liked this five-sentence formula, be sure to check out the Teen Toolkit, which provides 52 tools just like this that parents can use to strengthen their relationship with their teens.

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