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If you picked up this book, chances are you are having trouble with backtalk from your children. You've probably been told that you shouldn't pay attention to it, that it's just the way children express themselves these days.
But our position is that you should do something about it. Your children need you to do something about it. With this book as your guide, you will learn a pattern of responding that will enable you to deal with backtalk immediately, every time it happens. When children are allowed to get away with backtalk, they don't learn to have respect for others.
Dr. Ricker wanted to write this book because she saw that her students' backtalk was completely out of hand, whether they were in elementary school or college. As a mother she had to deal with backtalk. She saw that firm consequences not only eliminated the backtalk problem but also helped the child.
Dr. Crowder, a psychologist and parent trainer, has long wanted to provide a theoretical and behavioral framework for handling this problem. In her parenting classes she has observed that nearly all parents are confused about, and feel helpless in, handling their children's backtalk.
This book is aimed at preventing backtalk. Parents, teachers, and other adults who deal with children will find that the book provides a clear, simple method of responding to the problem. This response consists of a FourStep Program that anyone can use, with consistent practice.
Here is a scenario that shows how backtalk can strike for the first time when it is least expected.
Case History #I: The Jones family was gathered in the living room watching television and reading while Mary Jones grilled hamburgers for dinner. Mary and John Jones are both physicians, the eleven-year-old twin boys are soccer players, and sixteen-year-old Joe is an honor student and track star. The rapport that Mary and John enjoy with their children is the envy of all their friends.
On this particular night Mrs. Jones came in to ask how everyone wanted his hamburger cooked, medium or well done?
"Medium," said one twin.
"Same," said the other.
"Medium well," said John.
"Joe?" asked Mary. "What about you?"
Silence. Joe did not even turn and look at her.
"Joe? How about your burger?" Mary prompted cheerfully.
"I'm watching this show," Joe said, his tone full of annoyance. "Can't you see that? God! " He then turned his attention back to the television, ignoring his mother completely.
Joe's response to his mother included the following characteristics: sudden rudeness, nasty tone, inflected syllables, hostility, and bullying control of the conversation. In other words, Joe started the backtalk attack without provocation, he controlled the nature of the attack, and he ended it when he decided to. Mary never knew what hit her!
At this point, parents like Mary and John typically see only two possible responses -- either to ignore the attack or to escalate the negative exchange, neither of which will help to solve the problem. In doing nothing constructive, the parents are left wondering where they went wrong and the twins are being influenced by their older brother's rude behavior.
However, there is another way to handle the situation. The parents in this example could use the steps we've outlined in this book to stop this backtalk and future attacks. It pays to be prepared to deal with backtalk before it happens. If you've already experienced it in your household, it's not too late to manage it successfully. The fact is, rude behavior needs parental intervention and being allowed to get away with backtalk is bad for your child.
Backtalk can ruin a person's chances for a productive, happy life, because a child who gets away with it at home will undoubtedly try backtalking outside the home, losing respect of friends, friends' parents, teachers, and, later, employers. At home he can be ostracized by parents who don't know how else to deal with him. He could even be sent away by adults who have no idea of how to deal with the behavior. At school, he could become known as a difficult child whom adults and children avoid. Later, on the job, his backtalk could keep him from getting and keeping promotions.
Parents are not the only household members affected by backtalk; younger or less dominant siblings become intimidated. They soon learn how to respond in kind, and backtalk becomes the model of communication in the home. If backtalk is allowed to continue unchecked, the atmosphere in the home will become hostile, unsettling, and discouraging for the whole family. And a few backtalkers in the classroom can ruin a teacher's ability to teach.
Parents can learn to distinguish between backtalk and respectful disagreement. Autocratic families may be eager to see all disagreement from children as backtalk. Permissive families accept the verbal abuse as legitimate communication. Assertive communication is respectful while backtalk is never respectful. Backtalk includes not only disrespectful words, but a disrespectful tone and disrespectful body language as well. Any or all of these manifestations of backtalk should be addressed by parents.
WHAT THIS BOOK WILL DO
Backtalk will help parents learn how to have a backtalk-free home. It's normal to feel hurt, angry, and disappointed by children's backtalk. A constructive approach to dealing with these feelings is provided here. Unlike other child-rearing books, which encourage you to view backtalk as healthy communication, this book will treat backtalk for what it is -- disrespectful behavior -- and teach parents how to handle backtalk when it happens. Here is a chapter-by-chapter overview:
In Part One, "What, Why, When, and How," we explain, among other things, what backtalk is, why it has become an epidemic, when it became legitimized by child-rearing experts, and how it affects families, schools, and the backtalkers themselves. Part I also explains what you can do about backtalk, why you must do something, when you should do it, and how.
In Chapter 1, "Frank Talk About Backtalk," we discuss the pleasures of the backtalk-free home, the nature of backtalk, and reasons for dealing with it in a timely fashion. This chapter shows you how to identify this problem and explains briefly which conditions in our culture, especially the growth of mainstream media, have helped backtalk reach epidemic proportions in the past few years. Chapter 2 explains the Four-Step Program for dealing with backtalk, discussing the steps in detail and providing a variety of case histories.
In Part Two, "Practice," we provide instructions for implementing the steps for dealing with backtalk. In this section we also discuss and validate attitude problems adults often have in implementing the Four-Step Program. We cover issues you may encounter as you apply the four steps to children of different ages, including college age and adult children. You'll learn how to deal with teachers, caregivers, psychologists, and adult relatives who may disapprove of your stand on backtalk, and we'll also examine the unique backtalk problems faced by single parents and working couples. We'll discuss how to deal with your child's backtalking friends, and what to do about other external sources of backtalk including movies and television. Part Two also includes a chapter on creating and maintaining a backtalk workbook in which you can track the effectiveness of the Four-Step Program and keep a list of solutions that work for you. Finally, we'll recommend support groups to join and types to avoid, and we'll tell you how to start one of your own.
SUGGESTIONS FOR USING THIS BOOK
Try to read the whole book through in one sitting. Just skim it, if that's all you have time to do.
Then write down the four steps so you'll be more likely to remember them:
These words may not be meaningful to you now, but once you master the Four-Step Program, you'll want to keep these cues handy.
During the next backtalk incident, apply the four steps immediately. Perhaps you'll stop the backtalk on the first application; perhaps you'll lose your nerve and give in. In any case, the hardest thing about using this book -- taking immediate action -- will have been initiated. You'll be on your way to establishing a norm of communicatioin in your home.
WHAT THIS BOOK WILL NOT DO
Backtalk assumes your children are like Mary and John Jones's children: of normal intelligence, brought up to consider the feelings of others, and blessed with family members who, for the most part, behave well toward one another. This book will not tell you how to deal with neurologically impaired children, delinquent behavior, substance abuse, or physical attacks. This book will not diagnose or suggest cures for children who have psychiatric problems.
A note from Audrey Rieker: As a parent in the early 1960s who believed in progressiveness, I allowed my son to say anything he wanted whenever he wanted. By the time he was four, he had been expelled from the city's best nursery school for talking back to the teacher. Most frightening of all, he had begun to accompany his backtalk with acting-out behavior, such as throwing a chair across the room during an appointment with a psychologist. That doctor told me that my son was in a phase of self-expression that he would soon grow out of. But he was so completely out of hand that I was not sure he would ever get self-control on his own.
Though the psychologist told me I was risking psychological damage to my son, I allowed my new husband to discipline him verbally when he backtalked. Soon the boy not only became pleasant to live with but was able to attend a new preschool and make many more friends. I consider the stopping of my son's backtalk a turning point in his life. I'm sure he would not have gotten over it by himself, and I believe he would have landed in serious trouble with teachers, family, and friends.
Copyright © 1998 by Audrey Ricker, Ph.D. and Carolyn Crowder, Ph.D.