Do You Work with an Eye-Rolling, Sarcastic, Back-Talking Pre-Teen?

aaaMiddle Schoolers Don’t Have the Maturity to Know They Crossed the Line
Photo: Stockxpert

I’ve been pulling-my-hair-out with an eight-year-old charge that is suddenly giving me back-talk. His once respectful tone has been replaced with rude comebacks, eye-rolling, sarcasm, and bitter refusal to follow through with even the simplest of my requests.

I’ve been wondering what is wrong with him? What is wrong with me? What am I doing wrong? And most painful of all, why does he suddenly hate me?

So, I am thrilled that I stumbled across a book that explains that his sudden sense of entitlement probably isn’t about me at all. He’s simply trying out his pre-teen mojo. He’s seeing what he can get away with.

According to Lauri Berkenkamp and Steven C. Atkins, co-authors of Because I Said So!: Family Squabbles & How to Handle Them (Go Parents! Guide) the problem is, middle schoolers (starting as early as eight-years-old until they are 14-years-old) don’t have the maturity to know when they’ve crossed the line. The pre-frontal cortex — the area in the brain that affects reasoning, impulse control, and the ability to recognize the consequences of their actions — isn’t fully formed until the late teens or early 20s. Instead, it’s overshadowed by the highly reactive amygdala, which triggers the brains’ automatic fight-or-flight reflex.

“When this area fires up, a child may instantaneously interpret just about anything you do or say as hostile — and react accordingly,” say the authors.

“Plus, kids witness the cynical, taunting comments of classmates at school [and older siblings]. In the guise of being ‘cool,’ a child may adapt the tone of voice or verbal bullying of peers in order to fit in,” explains Berkenkamp and Atkins. “His friends get away with it, so he figures, why not try it out?”

This knowledge is liberating! I can stop over-analyzing everything I say and worrying about his hating me (since all kids this age just hate their nannies! Just kidding).  He’s simply wired to react aggressively at this stage. But, that doesn’t mean I should just sit back and ignore when he makes rude comments or behaves inappropriately. Tomorrow, we will learn how to cope with a bad tween attitude.

Tomorrow: How to Cope with a Bad Tween Attitude

Because I Said So!: Family Squabbles & How to Handle Them (Go Parents! Guide)


  1. I have worked with tweens and teens in the past and the older kids get the harder they are to deal with. I think all kids in the current generation that I've cared for have a sense of entitlement. As a nanny I need the parents help in disciplining their kids. They mirror their parents. If the parents speak to their nanny disrespectfully so will the kids.

  2. I am nannying a preteen right now and hope to become a newborn specialist from now on! Can't handle the talking back.

  3. Ive been a nanny for 28 years and have my fair share of this. Its actually quite easy to deal with, IMO, if you can handle the silent treatment. Depending on age: "Your behavior is disrespectful" Time out then discussionEarly years or new behavior – simply turn to them and say something like "how you just address me was disrespectful, a better way would have been to say ….. Next time, you get a time out." They do need to hear the proper way, not just get scolded.Replay to them, facials and all but a SNIDGE overact, exactly what they said and looked like and ask them if thats how they want you to talk to them. Discussion.Have them sit at the table and think about what just happened. "When youre ready to tell me what went wrong, let me know and we will talk about it". Earn things – such as smart tv time, computer time, toys, whatever. You can do a point system if you want where so many points gets them something else if they are respectful.


  1. […] we explained that eye-rolling, sarcastic, back-talking pre-teens don’t have the maturity to know when they’ve crossed the line. Their highly reactive amygdala (part of the brain) triggers the brains’ automatic […]

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