Quieting the Mouth that Roared


When my kids were younger, I used to wonder how I’d survive the trying toddler years — the tantrums, the defiance, the irrational behavior so typical of the age. Just wait, I was told. There’s even more fun ahead in the tumultuous teens. Boy, were they right.

Of course there are plenty of joys in raising a teen, but these moments are often overshadowed by attitude, moodiness, and oh my word, the mouth.


Recently my teen dished up a whopper. The time was 7:52 A.M., and darling daughter needed to be in first period class in 8 minutes. She came waltzing down the stairs without an ounce of urgency, expecting I’d compensate for her poor time management and give her a ride to school.

I don’t drive my kids to school because it’s less than half a mile away — an easy walk, or an even easier bike ride. Since I knew on this particular morning she’d been texting and piddling around with Flappy Bird instead of getting ready for school, I told her no, I was not giving her a ride.

“But I’m going to be late!” she exclaimed.

“Then you’d better run, or ride your bike,” I said.

“You suck. I hate you!” she yelled, and stormed out the front door.

I probably shouldn’t have been stunned. She’d been slowly amping up the mouthiness for months, but this took it to another level. I’d crossed into a whole new parenting frontier.


In cases like these, I call for reinforcements: the family, friends, and colleagues who have weathered the teen years, who can empathize and provide sound advice. Everyone agreed she should lose a privilege. Something that would hurt, or leave a big void in her life.

Nowadays that’s an easy fix. You take away a teen’s electronics. It’s like keeping them from oxygen.

When she arrived home that afternoon, we met in her room for a private discussion, where I calmly explained how disrespectful she’d been, and how her mouth and impulses were out of control.

I saved the punishment for the end: 2 days with no gadgets. After some protesting and a failed attempt at negotiation, she surrendered her phone, iPod, and laptop.

My sister felt she should have suffered a whole week without gadgets, and I considered this. But I know down the road there will be more and worse things to come, so I need to reserve a few weapons in my arsenal. I promised my daughter the next time the mouth roars, her punishment will be longer.

IMG_2711Fortunately it’s made an impact. She’s been much more respectful, dare I say even a pleasure to be around! Time management has been better, too. Maybe she’s learned a lesson.

For now, anyway.

Categories: Parenting | Tags: , , , | 40 Comments

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40 thoughts on “Quieting the Mouth that Roared

  1. This doesn’t give me any hope, Gwen. I already have to take away screen time from my 7 test old for the same thing!

    We’re looking at boarding schools.

  2. katiewritesagain

    Oh yes, Gwen, she’s learned …for now. I’m glad you realize boundaries will be tested, always and forever tested. Learning something once is a movie myth. Stand your ground. It’s how children become adults. We have to gain empirical knowledge in order to actually learn. We can all attest to the frustration of having to work with, live around, people who never learned the basics of being an adult-namely, YOU are responsible for yourself. Period. You piddle around, you’re late. Do that routinely in the grown up world and you lose the job.
    We learn what we HAVE to learn. Goes for everyone. And the sooner we learn it, the better off we are. Hang in there. Parenting is a tough job. I salute you for doing the hard thing instead of the easy thing-your child will be a better person for it.

    • It was the hard thing indeed, Katie, and thanks for your encouragement. When she arrived home that afternoon in a great mood, I almost wavered on the punishment. I’m so glad I stayed strong. Human beings are a work in progress, so nothing is ever a done deal. I’m not naive enough to think I’ve “fixed” the mouthiness. There will absolutely be more to come. We just have to take one day at a time.

  3. Oh I can sympathise, Gwen. Whilst my eldest is only 11, you’d think he was nearing 18. Mr Know-it-all I call him. Always has to have the last word, and knows everything about the world. I think you chose an appropriate punishment. I’m told the issues we deal with get bigger the older our kids get. We have to pick our fights. Well done!

    • Pick your battles is right, Gemma. I no longer argue with my kids when their minds are made up about things that don’t matter in the big picture (sloppy clothing, etc.) — it’s not worth it. Growing up to be a decent human being is high on my priority list, though, so manners and learning to be respectful is something I take seriously. I have an 11-year-old as well, who’s also a know-it-all. She’d argue with me that the sky isn’t blue. I guess we live for the good moments!

  4. Oh my! I can’t believe those words came out of that sweet, innocent child’s mouth. :) Those pictures of her are great, Gwen!
    My sister always said, raising girls was much more difficult than boys. Once you get into the teen years, the hormones go crazy along with the attitude.
    For a teenager, two days without gadgetry is an eternity. I think the punishment fit the crime.
    Hang in there!

    • Your sister is probably right, Jill. I’ve also heard that girls are more difficult as teens, and Carrie agreed with that opinion, too. Oh, well. We get what we get and make the best of it. It was a long two days without her gadgets, for her and me! She can be a real sweetheart, but those moments seem to be fewer and farther between as time marches on….I just try to embrace those moments when they present themselves!

  5. I don’t have kids so I cant relate as well to the ‘raising a teenager’ piece, but I sure do remember giving it to my mom. My thing was putting on the walkman and tuning her and everyone out while she yelled, lectured or while I was mad at them … until she took it away. Can’t remembered if it worked or for how long, but hey I turned out okay and we get along great now, if that’s any consolation :)

  6. Rajni

    Sounds kind of familiar. What I get is, “You are a meany. Meany Mommy meany,” in a sing-song tone from my 5-year-old smart-mouth. And yes I take away the I-Pad for a day or two. And then it happens again when I utter a “No”.
    But then there are good moments when she comes to me with an icepack or a band aid if I get hurt.

    • I’m finding the older the girls get, the more ups and downs there are, and it goes in spurts. For a while life is good, but then we go through a down turn and everything is a battle or an argument, and it’s often tied to sleep — shorter nights yield crabbier, short-tempered, bickering kids. I’ve whipped Natalie into shape for now, but I know it won’t last forever. Fiona is very argumentative, which really tries my patience. My greatest hope is to raise two well-adjusted children into responsible, productive adults. Some days I wonder how I’ll make it!

  7. So sorry you had to hear the “H” word, but kudos to you for handling it so perfectly. You’re right–taking away all things electronic works well. I have two teenage boys, and it’s my go-to, too. I suspect people might be right when they say boys are kinder to their moms than girls are, but that doesn’t mean I get off scot-free. I still get plenty of eye rolls, grunts, and smart comments. But boys seem to get over it very quickly. Luckily. Then again, I still have a few more years to go…

    • I’m glad you think I handled it perfectly, Carrie, because I wavered about it all day while she was at school, whether I’d decided on the right punishment, and for how long. For smaller offenses I take away only the phone, but bigger things I take it all. Works great. I’ve also heard girls are more difficult in the teen years. They seem to take more liberties with the backtalk and mouthiness.

  8. My kids were seldom disrespectful. Thank God I didn’t have a third. It would have been my Hell on wheels kid! If they crossed a line, I always talked about how it made me feel bad and hurt my feelings. I also had them tell me what their punishment should be They were always harder on themselves.

    • Sometimes I give my daughter a choice between having phone or gymnastics practice taken away. She loves both so it forces her to decide which she values more (or less). Other times I just “be the parent” and decide what goes. This was one of those instances.

  9. lawlar

    It’s a lot more fun being a grandparent. You get to enjoy the kids when they on their best behaviour, and then you hand them off so the parents can handle the rough patches. Good luck. In a few years you’ll be a grandparent, and then you can spoil the grandkids. That will be your revenge on your kids.

    • Lordy, Larry — I hope I have more than a few years before grandchildren are in my life! All the grandparents I know say the same, that it’s more fun. And good for you, because by then you’ve earned it!

  10. Thank God for gadgets I say! I have two teenage sons so threats of depriving them for a day or three of Xbox games and laptops has worked like a charm when they choose to ignore their school work or household chores. Maybe it’s because they’re boys (?) but luckily they don’t mouth off as much as skulk around the house when things don’t go their way.

    • It’s so true! The best thing about letting kids have the gadgets is being able to take them away as a punishment! The comments here seem to agree that boys are not as mouthy as girls, and I guess that fits the profile. We gals often have a hard time shutting up! I have a friend who takes the Xbox from her boys and puts it in the trunk of her car during the length of the punishment. Why? Because she’s run out of hiding places.

      • LOL! what a great idea! hiding the Xbox in the trunk of her car I must remember that one not only for the gadgets but for the candy and snacks :-)

      • It’s genius, right?

  11. Sounds like you found a balance. I know if I had talked back to my mother like she did you…well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be pleasant. Course you know why Southerners have three names? So you will know when your mother is mad at you. I sure didn’t want my mother giving me the three name treatment.

    Here’s one you can throw at her: Just you wait till you have kids of your own. You will then see things from the other end of the stick.

    The thing is to remind yourself that you are doing a great job. The instruction book you get with these teens sure doesn’t help.

    • Thanks for the humor, Don, as always. I never knew that’s why Southerners had 3 names :) Yeah, that instruction manual has been useless!

      • I will say that love applied liberally with a little discipline is an amazing thing. It looks like that is what you are doing. But the love without the discipline is no love at all. One thing is for sure. It is the hardest thing turning out a good human being. So I would say you’re doing a darn good job.

  12. Oh Gwen, you handled this beautifully! You will need to hang tough through the next few years – just wait till they have boyfriends!! Being firm and consistent will pay off in the end and you will have a strong and happy relationship with your girls.

    • Thanks, Jenny. It’s good to hear it from someone who knows. Right now there are lots of friends that are boys, but no boyfriends. Not something I’m looking forward to! One thing at a time, I suppose.

  13. Teens are tough. There’s that weird need to assert yourself and all those hormones running amuck. I think you made a wise choice in punishment and were smart to reserve longer periods for future use. :) And you were 100% right not to fix her mistake. Kids need to know that actions have consequences.

    • Thanks Kourtney! Parenting is a daily journey and I am constantly second-guessing myself. In the end you just have to go with your gut even if it’s hard. But I guess the hard choices are usually the right ones aren’t they?

  14. As I spend time with my granddaughters (ages 2.5 and 5.5) and reflect on your blog about teens, it all seems so same, same as the 2.5 year-old would say. Firm, realistic, and appropriate expectations/consequences dished out with compassion. Package away your own emotional responses – these things aren’t personal. Be consistent. And remember – this to will pass.

    • After this happened, a colleague told me about her oldest child, who is now 22, and the hell she gave her when she was a teen. This young woman is now living on her own, and my colleague misses her terribly. The childhood years go by in a blink of an eye. I know it won’t be too long before we are empty nesters and I’ll be longing for the good old days with my mouthy teenager.

  15. What joy to look forward to! :D Glad to hear you found a solution though. I wonder what we’ll have to take away 15 years from now!

    • Yes the joys and the sorrows of parenting will soon be yours, Phillip! The good thing is, you grow with your child. There’s no instruction manual, you just learn as you go. The purest form of on-the-job training! I’m sure you’ll have some great stories to share with your readers!

  16. Part of me breathes a sigh of relief when I hear parenting woes. Not having children means not dealing with the issues you must face. You and other parents who take the job seriously and try to raise another generation of responsible and respectful adults have my whole-hearted admiration. Alas, from what I see around me, there are not enough people trying to do it right. I suspect our hormones have a lot to do with our behavior in the teen years, but I’m afraid our culture also glorifies the bad in entertainment. And then people wonder why children emulate their favorite “bad boy/girl” celebrities and the violence and disrespect they see on television, in movies, and in too many books.

    Kudos to you for setting such a good example with discipline!

    • I see it every day in the school where I work, JM, and it motivates me to keep working at it. Kids who don’t even have the basics of manners, as if the words please and thank you have never been taught. Sure, hormones are a factor, but I don’t think it’s wrong to expect decency even with everything that’s going on biologically and emotionally. It’s difficult to be the one swimming upstream, but I know the type of adult I want my kids to become. But then, nothing worth doing is ever easy, is it? One day at a time.

  17. fransiweinstein

    Good for you. She’ll thank you for it one day.

  18. Great post, Gwen. Good for you for staying strong! We’re all tempted to back down at times, but there’s too much at stake. And, well, Dude, you know how it is…
    (Sorry, I couldn’t resist using your ONE WORD!)

    • It was such a traumatic event at the time, but everything in life teaches us something, doesn’t it? A friend at work had a similar experience with her teen last week, and it felt good that I could empathize and comfort her. You’re right, that’s how it is, Dude! :)

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