Peter, a 7th grader, has been really frustrated in his English class. He's already 2 grade levels behind in his reading ability, and his teacher expects him to keep up with the other kids. A lot of days he just gives up and doodles in his notebook instead of reading. There are so many words he doesn't understand and he doesn't want to ask his teacher for help in front of his classmates because they'll make fun of him outside of class.
When his teacher starts a class discussion on the chapter they were supposed to have finished last night, he starts to tap his pencil on his desk as he thinks about football practice after school. His teacher calls on him to answer a discussion question, and Peter looks up at her and snidely responds, "What, don't you know the answer?"
Questions for Discussion:
- Do you think that this was an appropriate response for Peter? Why do you think this was his response?
- What might have been a better answer to the teacher's question, if Peter didn't understand the book and couldn't contribute to the discussion?
- How might his classmates perceive him after this incident? Positively or negatively?
- What do you think are the short and long term consequences of his actions?
- How does talking back affect the relationship between Peter and his teacher?
- What should Peter do to help establish a better relationship with his teacher? (*hint: may involve time before or after class)
- Is there someone else that Peter could talk with about the situation and ask for help to mend the relationship with his teacher?
** Talking back is usually observed when a child or teenager doesn't know how to properly ask for things or to communicate. It is better for authorities to calmly explain to a youngster how to properly communicate, in an appropriate setting and time (and not when a child has just challenged an adult with back-talk). It is important to explain that simply asking respectfully does not necessarily mean they will achieve the outcome they are requesting, and keep in mind that the younger the child or teen the more difficult it can be for them to understand this. The lesson may need repeating...mutliple times.
** Sometimes as the adult witnessing the situation, it is easy to let it go; we already have too much on their plates and it becomes just one more thing to worry about. Sometimes we're reluctant to intervene because we think our mentee will just become more angry. But simply avoiding back talk doesn’t work, because then our protegé won’t learn how to express himself effectively.
** Research shows that if a child is talking back all the time without punishment or firm limits being set, make no mistake, that child is being trained to do it more often.
** Some back talk is normal during adolescence while teenagers are trying to establish their independence. Teenagers often aren’t thinking things through; they’re just beginning to learn how to stand up for themselves, and most of the time they’re not going to do it very well.
What Mentors Can Do to Help With This?
** Most importantly, share your experiences with back talk and how you feel about it. Did you talk back when you were their age, why or why not? How did that work out for you? How do you perceive kids/people who talk back now? Also, remember that your mentee is always watching you, so be a good role model whenever you're with them. If someone cuts you off on the road, be careful not to yell. If you encounter a person being rude to you, make sure you think about what you say before you say it. And if you accidentally talk back to someone, be sure to talk it through with your mentee and come up with an alternative conversation that could have been had.
** Pay attention to your mentees opinion about talking back. Is the child disrespectful or verbally abusive to you and others? Is that their only way of getting what they want or are they capable of other ways of communication?
** Analyze your mentee’s self-esteem and comfort. Do they feel powerless or not listened to? Do they seem out of control? Talk with them about why they talk back and try to be understanding. Whatever the reason, once you figure out why they are doing it you can help them problem solve to find another, more effective, method to communicate and reach their goal. Help them consider long term effects of talking back or being respectful. Talking back is often an immediate response that is not well thought out, so considering the consequences before they do it will help them avoid making the same bad choices.
** If you perceive back talk in your mentee, it would be appropriate to help the child/teenager change rude behavior by showing how one’s viewpoint and opinion can be stated in a more respectful and appropriate way. Talk with them about the pros and cons of different communication styles and how not talking-back could be much more effective in reaching their goals at home and in school. Be patient through this process, as your words may need to be repeated several times on various occasions.
** Explain to your mentee that even when two people absolutely don’t agree, there are other options that will work much better than back talk. And sometimes silence, or agreeing to disagree, will keep them from saying or doing something they might regret later. Feel free to role play different situations and responses so when they are in the moment they don’t have to think about it, they have responses planned.
** Talk with your mentee about how he feels when ignoring disciplinary efforts and talking back to authorities. Help them consider the potential consequences of talking back, from just being labeled a “jerk” to getting in serious trouble at home/school or even with the law. Talking back to a police officer can take a simply warning and turn it into an expensive ticket! And if talking back becomes a habit it could negatively impact their work and personal relationships for the rest of their life!