A friend recently shared a difficult story with me about her out-of-control teen. She came home from work early one day to find that her 14-year old daughter had several friends over and the television was blaring. When confronted about the mess and the noise and the violation of many family rules including the one about having boys over, this girl gave her mother a lot of sassy “back talk” in full view of the other kids. This woman, a kind-hearted and gentle soul, felt so brow-beaten she retreated to the bathroom until the entire group, including her own daughter, left her alone with her hot, messy tears.
As the standards of childhood have loosened over the years, this sort of sassy child has become all too common for Christian families. Search online and you will come across literally thousands of websites where mothers are desperately seeking help with their mouthy children. Sass spreads like wildfire among tweens and teens. Once they witness how effectively it irritates parents and teachers, they seize upon that extra edge of sassiness when trying to avoid the chores, homework and family bonding so important in a moral home. Young and awkward children also use rebellion as a way to gain that elusive hint of peer acceptance. They will claim their attitude is borne out of the injustices they perceive around them, but rather it’s a byproduct of their own internal emotional failings. The danger with this sort of disruptive behavior is that many children never learn how to outgrow it, becoming even more outrageously sassy and difficult as adults. As Proverbs 22:6 reminds us, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
WHAT ARE THE ROOT CAUSES OF SASS TODAY?
1) Mothers who fuss over fussy infants
Fussy infants can become sassy tweens. Crying, which is medically proven to be good for the lungs, should not cause a mother to rush in to comfort her young child unless it is a genuine medical emergency. Wait 5 to 10 minutes before offering solace; otherwise you are only encouraging your child to be emotionally demanding.
2) Lack of household discipline
Families need to have consistently-enforced rules for children and mothers need to be twice as vigilant about sticking to them. Pestering, whining, complaining and arguing should not be the basic form of communication between the young and the old. The threat of punishment should be real enough that it never need be more than a threat. “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” –Proverbs 22:15.
3) The myth of the “creative” child
We live in the midst of a culture that enshrines the independent and rambunctious child. Crayons on the wall, loud singing and even playing video games are taken by some parents as examples of their child’s budding creativity. But creativity is a double-edged sword. For many, these activities take time away from genuine study and the wholesomeness of sports, which in turn provide a foundation of usable skills and good health so necessary later in life.
4) Playing with overly urban dolls
Bratz dolls, Busty Barbie, Homeless Gwen and toys of this ilk suggest a streak of independence and inappropriate sexuality that some young girls find appealing. Since these dolls do not talk, the children who own them imagine an attitude to fit such skimpy and ethnic attire. Often, their imagination leads them to the loud, aggressive accents they may have heard on an inner city street or programs like The Tyra Banks Show.
5) Influence of older sisters and cousins
We trust our relatives and leave our children alone with them because they are family. But do we really know what’s happening in those upstairs bathrooms or trips to the mall? Girls naturally adore their older kin and will work desperately hard to win a few seconds of their attention, even if it means mimicking their vicious talk about the clothes of celebrities or kissing boys.
6) Not enough praise for good behavior
It may sound like bribery, but rewarding your child when he or she gets good grades, wins a sports competition or attracts the acclamation of other adults will only encourage continued proper behavior in the future. Buy a small gift, let him or her sit in the front seat of the car, anything that says, “I love you!” When you fail to do this, it forces the child to seek other avenues for your involvement in their lives. Some need your attention so badly that they will even settle for your anger over your indifference.
7) Failure to become popular at school
Proper socialization is vital for the psychological health of young people. Friends and lots of them help a girl develop self-esteem. Sometimes a little push towards appropriate clothing styles, the correct sports teams and a dance committee is all it takes! For the lazy, it’s just too easy to fall back on self-defeating mental crutches like insolence and attitude.
8) Zero self-confidence!
Do you feel like your child lacks an essential self-worth? Have they not yet had the opportunity to prove themselves and succeed at something? The key here is to understand why you child feels so low about him or herself. Don’t be afraid to ask! And then encourage your kids to try something that they might succeed at.
9) No moral foundations for their young souls
Simply put, the miracle of faith is the most important gift you can give your child in their teenage years. It will help him or her navigate the troubling waters of adolescence with the knowledge that the afterlife will provide them eternal relief from the momentary corporeal suffering that is youth.
10) The fatigue of puberty
A teen’s body goes through such dramatic and amazing changes year by year that most youngsters resort to sleep and masturbation to cope. In turn, such introverted and unfulfilling habits make them bitter and unfriendly. Again, parents need to encourage their kids to enjoy outdoor fun and actively discourage them from self-abuse. (It is difficult, but every mother should talk to her kids at least once about masturbation.)
11) Acne and pimples
The shame of bad skin pushes a child away from normal activities and friendships. He or she will sit at the back of the classroom and find consolation in the company of other outcasts. This is how the epidemic of sass spreads, as the children use bad language and hand gestures to combat the popularity and success of their more gracious peers. Even more worrisome is the fact that this outcast lifestyle can ultimately damage a girl’s chances for biological fulfillment later in life. (Simple solution: take your child to see a dermatologist!)
12) Online websites and videos
There are far too many examples of kids acting out on Youtube and other websites today. In essence, they train teens to push a parent’s buttons in ways that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. What may come as a shock to many parents is that cross-dressing is currently one of the most popular trends in homemade videos. As I have explored in a previous article, the number of young boys who garnish themselves in dresses, wigs and poor makeup is maddening. The style of affectation most of these video stars turn to will come as no surprise: it is the Ground Zero of boyhood sass.
13) Mother and her gossipy friends
This is a unique problem that boys face. In homes where Mother dominates and Father is absent, a boy will think it appropriate to adopt the worst, loud habits of a domineering female element. From flashy clothes and fast talk, to catfighting and cigarette smoking, there are too many unpleasant womanly mannerisms that can fill up a lonely boy’s vacant soul.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SASSY BOYS AND SASSY GIRLS
Females primarily use sass in the family environment. For them, it is about their relationship with their mothers. Young girls are like hounds, sniffing out any weaknesses in those around them and then exploiting it to the fullest. If they sense a mother is too gentle or meek, they will abuse her kind nature with sass. This is an especially confounding problem for a woman who only wants to share the love of faith with her angry child.
Boys develop sass as a secret weapon to use outside of the home. Most understand, even unconsciously, the feminine undertones of sass and will be too ashamed to deploy it in front of their fathers. Yet in schools and around their friends, boys will dial up the sass in a desperate attempt to get attention for their emotional histrionics.
In a previous generation, washing a child’s mouth out with a bar of soap or making them swallow spoonfuls of Castor Oil were acceptable solutions to brassy behavior. Those tactics have gone the way of family legend, but the danger of sass remains. If a child learns that being a smart aleck pays off in freedom from responsibility, it can lead to a lifetime of problems. Independently-minded and rebellious children are far more likely to experiment with drugs and sex. For girls, the prospect of having a stable family life in her future is seriously compromised by such introverted and frustrating character traits. For boys, homosexuality, as always, is a uniquely difficult situation. Sadly, many a sassy boy will jump full throttle into a homosexual lifestyle because it offers an easy outlet for his frustrations and angers, the mystery of his growing body and the complicated world of adulthood that he does not yet understand. If parents would only address the roots of sassiness early enough, so much future pain and trouble can blessedly be avoided!